Back on Track!

But how? Just over six years ago Transport Secretary Alistair Darling announced that Metrolink Big Bang was scrapped leading to me demanding his resignation (" Move over Darling ") and the launch of the Get Metrolink Back on Track campaign.

A week ago contracts were signed for the construction of Metrolink to Wythenshawe and Manchester Airport which means that now not only is every aspect of Big Bang contractually committed but also, what was seen six years ago as a a very desirable extra, the extension to Didsbury. Half the world are now claiming credit it for it, and a big chunk are also asking about why we needed TIF/Congestion Charging if Big Bang could be delivered without it. A comprehensive account of how we got from July 20th, 2010 to now would turn the blog into War and Peace, but as one of the few people to have been involved all the way through, perhaps I can give the headlines:-

1. The Campaign. The campaign to get Metrolink Back on Track was one of the most successful run in the city for many years. Politically led, it had wide media support, particularly the MEN, and massive popular support. The campaign led to the reinstatement of previously agreed funding which allowed us to start building all three proposed extensions but south only as far as Chorlton, east only as far as Drolysden, and with Rochdale and Oldham town centres excluded. The same announcement also identified TIF ( Transport Innnovation Fund ) as a potential route for funding the rest.

2. With the help of Tony Lloyd, Peter Smith ( Leader of Wigan ) and myself re-established relationships with Alistair Darling and maintained regular face-to-face behind the scenes dialogue with every subsequent Secretary of State for Transport - and there were a lot of them. I was fortunate to have a very good working relationship with the last of these, Andrew Adonis. I'd first worked with Andrew when he was schools' minister when we put together the successful Manchester Building Schools for the Future/Academies programme and I also worked with him on campaigning for high speed rail to Manchester ( and beyond ). Good relationships help get through unnecessary bureaucratic blockages but you need a lot more than that to deliver schemes of this magnitude. You need robust business plans that demonstrate the transport case and the value for money case. Evidence!

3. Producing the case-making evidence for major schemes needs expertise, time and money. Officers of Manchester City Council and GMPTE deserve a lot of credit for their work which amongst other things allowed them to build good relationships with officials in the Department of Transport and the Treasury. Even they didn't have sufficient expertise, a lot of which had to be bought in from consultants ( dirty word I know but in some cases outside help is essential and this was one of them ). None of this evidence building would have happened without a substantial amount of money to pay for it.

4. We wouldn't be signing contracts for the remaining Metrolink extensions if politicians from across parties and across Greater Manchester hadn't had the courage to pursue TIF, congestion charge and all, right up to the referendum wire because its TIF that paid for the development of the business cases.

5. When following the massive no vote in the referendum TIF was abandoned, when the TIF schemes were re-appraised on the basis of economic contribution and their ability to contribute to fiscal stimulus, this was again largely using evidence amassed as part of the TIF bid. A simple fact, no TIF and we would still be whistling for Metrolink.

6. Final delivery needed two things. First, the sign off of the governemnt's contribution agreed by Andrew Adonis earlier this year. Secondly, another act of courage by local politicians across Greater Manchester in agreeing to support the Transport Investment Fund, 60% funded out of local Council Tax, and the way Metrolink and a number of other major infrastructure projects have at last gone from the drawing board to construction.

No quick fixes but a lot of hard work over many years and some tough decisions that had to be made.

There are 10 responses to “Back on Track!”

  1. Marc Hudson Says:

    "how we got from July 20th, 2010 to now would turn the blog into War and Peace,"
    Er, surely July 20 2004? And I LOVE the idea of it being War and Peace. I take it though, that you are Napolean and the Peel top bods are the Russians? Do we get Tolstoy's philosophical musings about chance/fate/Great Man of History and so forth? Can't wait....

  2. JP of Droylsden Says:

    I live in Droylsden and have seen first hand the disruption to our road network and the loss of business for local shops the metrolink work has caused over the last eighteen months. Droylsden precinct is now but a ghost town, Shops, cafes and building societies have all closed down in the last year, and those that remain seem to be on their last legs. I fear that by the time the work for the metro has finished there will be nothing left of Droylsden Town Centre. I am fortunate that I can shop elsewhere as I have transport but not everyone is as fortunate and they have to rely on local shops etc., especially many elderly residents. There is a growing number of letters in both the Evening News and the local Advertiser from residents of Droylsden who are querying whether the metro was ever needed in our area as there is already a very good bus service from Ashton under Lyne into the City Centre. I hope the towns along the way of the latest approved links to Wythenshawe and the Airport have better luck than Droylsden.

  3. This Charming Manc Says:

    I think it’s laudable that Manchester City Council has so vigorously pursued this programme of work and I think the fact that the project is reinstated is testament to the dedication of all those involved and the respect that the Council, its Leader and its officers command in Whitehall.

    The extension of the metrolink system will improve the public transport options for thousands of people across the Greater Manchester area and will be great for employment and business.

    I am slightly concerned, however, that the current pricing structure for travel on the metrolink is too high. It appears to me that a significant amount of public money is being invested in a project that will ultimately lead to Stagecoach/Metrolink increasing their profits and I think it’s only right that the company revise their pricing structure to ensure that it remains competitive; after all in many parts of the City region Stagecoach/Metrolink have an effective monopoly on public transport.

    A weekly ticket (fairly priced) that offers travel across the network should be considered.

    Does the Leader know if any such plans are in the pipeline and would he consider applying the necessary pressure on the company?

  4. Lazyitis Says:

    Plan B after all?

  5. Dave Bishop Says:

    I support Metrolink, in principle, but the environmental cost of building the current phases is becoming far too high. The old railway lines, between Old Trafford and East Didsbury, had become superb wildlife reserves after being abandoned for several decades. Most of that wildlife has now been wiped out. Some mitigation has been attempted - but, in my opinion it has been feeble, tokenistic, poorly thought through and far too late (e.g. replacement ponds for amphibians were built long after their habitat had been destroyed.
    All of this pales into insignificance when one considers the havoc that will be wrought on the Mersey Valley when the airport spur is built. Hundreds of mature trees will be lost and an extremely wildlife rich SBI (Hardy Farm) will also be lost. The only mitigation which appears to be on the table, at the moment, is that 2 of the rarer plants on Lower Hardy Farm will be translocated. This will, in no way, make up for the loss of an entire habitat which is unique in the Mersey Vally.

    An article in yesterday's Guardian newspaper (17.08.10) quotes a UN official (Ahmed Djoghlaf) who believes that destroying nature will ruin economies and cultures. He criticised countries for separating action on climate change from protecting biodiversity: "The loss of biodiversity exacerbates climate change ... Climate change cannot be solved without action on biodiversity and vice versa."

    Manchester has aspirations to becoming a 'Green City'. In my opinion it has no hope of meeting those aspirations until it starts valuing its biodiversity. At the moment local biodiversity appears to be both invisible and expendable - and the construction of the latest Metrolink lines tends to prove my point.

  6. Jim Mogg Says:

    Dave Bishop - seconded. This blog seems to be all bragging and the approach has seemed narrow sighted.

  7. frank clements Says:

    And the Liberals are still claiming the credit!

  8. Duke Fame Says:

    Nice to see you can work to a budget, looking at how much money has been wasted in hte process whilst we've seen project after project announced. IF you are honest, there were cheaper and efficient solutions which were ignored because the local council bods wanted a nice big shiny project, photo in the paper and a massaged ego. The people have to pay for those eogos of course.

  9. Miffed Says:

    Back on track? Considering the extra forty minutes added to my bus journey home due to traffic disruptions on Ashton Road I can't really say I share Mr Leese's optimism. If memory serves, Mr Leese championed the introduction of a congestion charge to reduce traffic delays in and out of the city and yet he is now celebrating the fact that we will have congestion on a grand scale until at least 2012.

  10. Miffed Says:

    2 hours 17 minutes to travel 15 miles to work yesterday. Over an hour spent traversing the length of Ashton New Road. This has now gone beyond a joke.