Nottingham Express Transit extensions get Government approval

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Monday, March 28, 2011

Two of Nottingham's trams are pictured at the Wilkinson Street tram stop, home of the network's depot.
Image: Thryduulf, Wikimedia Commons.

Phase two of Nottingham, England's Express Transit system (NET) received a boost last Thursday, when it was announced that the Government had approved both of the proposed additional lines to extend the network further into the Nottinghamshire area. Construction of the two lines, which will take the system to Chilwell and Clifton, could begin before the end of the year.

The plans were originally turned down on cost grounds, but following successful negotiations between Nottingham City Council and the two companies bidding to construct the line enough savings have been found to allow the scheme to receive the green light. Around 20% is now believed to have been saved from the cost of the project, though no exact figures of either the original cost or savings made have been announced by the council, and according to a transport boss the project has had no changes made to it to accommodate these.

The routes, the vehicles or the infrastructure will not be affected by the reduced budget. Quality, reliability and safety is paramount to the success of the existing route and this ethos will be replicated on lines two and three.

—Pat Armstrong, director of NET

Under the private finance initiative (PFI) deal, which is how the funding for phase 2 will be secured, private firms bid to win the contract to build and run the tram network, before then later leasing it back to the council who pay for its use on an ongoing basis. The two consortia bidding to build and operate the network are Tramlink Nottingham and Arrow Connect, the preferred bidder of which will appointed in the near future.

However, despite the news of the approval for the lines by the Government, the final hurdle has not yet been jumped, and they could still never make it off the drawing board. The announcement only means that Nottingham City Council — who are the sole promoters of the scheme following the withdrawal of the Tory-led County Council — can continue the process and, if the final business case is given full approval, will then be able to award the concessionaire contract to the successful bidder.

The NET system was opened in March 2004, and the original line, Line One, runs for a distance of 14km between Hucknall and Nottingham City Centre, with a short spur also serving Phoenix Park — near to the M1 motorway. Once completed, Lines Two and Three, operating to Clifton via Wilford and Chilwell via the Queen's Medical Centre and Beeston, will continue on from the current terminus at Station Street, over a new bridge across Nottingham railway station, and diverge to their separate termini shortly afterwards. The lines will add a further 17.4km to the network.

A Hucknall-bound tram is seen in one of the platforms at the current Station Street terminus. When phase two is completed, the new line will continue to the left and onto a new bridge over Nottingham station.
Image: Thryduulf, Wikimedia Commons.

After making the announcement on Thursday, Transport Minister Norman Baker said: “Line One of the Nottingham tram has proved to be a great success in encouraging people on to public transport. These proposed extensions provide the opportunity to continue this success, and give people in the south of Nottingham quicker, more convenient access to the city centre, as well as helping to regenerate sections of the city.

"Following the spending review last year, we challenged Nottingham City Council to look again at the cost of the Nottingham light rail extension, to be funded through the private finance initiative, to ensure we get maximum value for every pound we spend.

"The Department has been working closely with the local authority involved to ensure this project is affordable. I am delighted that the Council has risen to the challenge and has identified savings from its original estimated costs.

"By finding savings, I can confirm that we are today allowing this project to move another step forward within our funding approval process.”

Nottingham City Council’s Chief Executive Jane Todd also commented: “This is a very positive development. We have worked hard with government to ensure that NET phase two is delivered as cost effectively as possible. A preferred bidder will now be appointed in the very near future who will work with the council to finalise contracts which will hopefully be signed later in the summer. NET Phase Two is crucial for the future of Nottingham's economy and to attract new jobs to the City”.

If final approval is given for the lines, construction work will begin before the end of the year, with a view to the extended system opening in 2014.