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.