Birmingham’s vision to bring the Midlands Metro through the city centre will be turned into reality after the scheme was spared the axe.
The £127.1 million project survived cuts of 14 per cent at the Department for Transport and will be completed by 2014.
Overjoyed transport chiefs in the West Midlands say work to lay tracks will begin in 2012 but the scheme is already underway.
A total of £9 million has already been spent on creating a viaduct which will carry the tracks from the existing Metro terminus at Snow Hill to Upper Bull Street.
From there, the trams will travel along Corporation Street and on to Stephenson Street stopping outside a new entrance at New Street station.
The extension will create 1,300 jobs and bring £50 million a year to the region’s economy, said regional transport body Centro.
But it will also underpin the £600 million redevelopment of New Street and help to pave the way for a possible further extension to the planned high speed rail station at Curzon Street.
Centro chief executive Geoff Inskip said: “This is fantastic news for Birmingham and the Black Country as it puts us on the way towards creating a truly world class public transport system for the West Midlands.
“This Metro extension is exactly what the Government wants to see from transport schemes, underpinning regeneration, boosting the economy and creating jobs.
“We intend to waste no time in pressing ahead with this exciting scheme so we can unlock those jobs and economic benefits as soon as possible.
“We plan to have the project completed to coincide with the opening of the New Street Gateway project at the end of 2014.”
Speaking to the Birmingham Post, Transport Secretary Philip Hammond gave the Metro his personal backing.
“It is a high value-for-money project,” he said. “The Government made a commitment to investing in infrastructure work which most benefits growth and this is an example of that.
“We have been very analytical in our approach. We have looked at projects and the ones we have given the go ahead to are the ones which offer the best value for money.”
Chancellor George Osborne set out savings at the DfT of £2.3 billion a year from its £15.9 billion budget but went on to outline how the Metro was one of a handful of major schemes that will continue to benefit from £700 million a year in funding. There had been fears that the Metro extension was likely to become a high profile casualty of the cuts.
It had been given “programme entry status” by the Labour Government in March, with a pledge to contribute £81 million towards the cost from Whitehall.
But Mr Hammond announced that he was unable to make any guarantees after taking up his cabinet post in May.
Officers at Centro have been involved in a campaign of lobbying and have held meetings with senior civil servants at the DfT to press their case.
The body’s new chairman, Coun Angus Adams, said in July that he was confident that the Metro extension met Mr Hammond’s criteria of offering value for money.
He said that infrastructure such as shelters and stops would be carefully designed to reflect those at New Street and the proposed new bus interchange facilities for the city centre.
A fleet of new and bigger trams will also be brought on to the tracks to increase passenger capacity and frequency to more than 3.5 million passengers every year.
The cash will also fund a new maintenance depot at Wednesbury.
Centro chairman Coun Angus Adams, added: “Birmingham is the only city of its size in Europe without a rapid transit system even though the economic advantages of having such networks are well proven.
“Today’s approval will help the West Midlands compete with its European and world rivals and help safeguard our future prosperity.”
There was no indication on whether the Government will back the proposed extension of the Metro from Wednesbury to Stourbridge but the announcement has given fresh hope to the scheme’s backers.
Centro hopes to create a £289 million branch from Wednesbury to Stourbridge which would take in Merry Hill.
“This shows the Government’s commitment towards light rail projects,” said a spokesman.
“Our research clearly shows that they underpin regeneration and the creation of jobs. Centro is continuing to work on plans for a rail transit system linking Wednesbury to Stourbridge via Merry Hill and Brierley Hill.
“Using innovative track-sharing technology will mean that there is no need to for a separate freight line and will cut the costs by as much as 20 per cent.”
Mr Hammond added: “It is up to Centro to bid for further funding for further stages of the scheme. This is what they have bid for so far and we have approved that bid.
“A big part of our strategy is localism. It isn’t for me in an office in Whitehall to tell Centro which are the most important projects for the West Midlands, but what we can do is look at the cost-benefit analysis and make a decision.”
Darren Walker, chairman of Birmingham Future and associate at Cobbetts, said: “It was interesting that the Chancellor chose to mention the Midland Metro within his transport summary – along with the New Street Station Gateway project – but a shame that High Speed 2 was not on the agenda.
“Hopefully the transport priorities will become clearer with next week’s additional announcements.
“But, in the meantime, while the Metro is not a Birmingham priority, we should be making the most of the opportunity it provides – reducing the strain on existing infrastructure and improving the connectivity across the city for all of Birmingham’s businesses.
New visitors to the city can now stay on public transport to get from New Street to Snow Hill – hopefully, making it easier for those travelling to Colmore Business District via Snow Hill.”