Hopes were raised last night that the #550 million refurbishment of New Street Station is close to securing final Government approval.

West Midlands Minister Liam Byrne said intensive discussions with Birmingham City Council during the summer had resulted in many questions about the value of the Gateway project being answered.

After meeting council leader Mike Whitby, Mr Byrne said a "huge amount" had been achieved since July, when Ministers accused the Gateway partnership of poor project management and demanded evidence that lower-cost options for a new station had been seriously examined.

The Government also demanded explanations of the analytical modelling used to calculate transport benefits and wanted to know why the private sector contribution was no higher than #200 million.

At the end of yesterday's meeting, Mr Byrne said: "The bottom line is the bid is already in better shape. I want to thank officials at the Department for Trade and Industry, Advantage West Midlands and the Birmingham partners for what's been a hectic summer.

"There's a few things still to finish, but we've agreed delivery dates and we head into a period of review in a much stronger position."

The Department for Transport announced a #128 million grant for New Street two months ago, but the project depends on a further #220 million of Government money if it is to go ahead as planned.

Mr Byrne insisted the Government remained serious about redeveloping New Street, adding: "That is why #128 million has already been put on the table."

In total the New Street Steering Committee has bid for #350 million in public money to fund the redevelopment, which once secured should unlock a further #200 million in private sector investment for the scheme.

Coun Whitby (Con Harborne), who chairs the steering committee, said: "Throughout the summer months we have been working hard to answer remaining questions about the New Street Gateway scheme.

"I'm glad that Liam has added his support to the project. Working together I am positive we can now move forward quickly.

"We all agree that New Street is the viable scheme on the table and its improvement is integral to the masterplan for Birmingham. The future prosperity of the West Midlands economy will be helped enormously by Birmingham having a station which creates the right first impression.

"That is why it has been a personal priority for me over the last three years.

"I'm grateful for the valuable contribution and expertise from Centro-PTA, Advantage West Midlands, and Network Rail who make up the successful Gateway partnership with the council, and look forward to positive announcements from the Government shortly."