Black Country council tax hike considered to plug Metro line funding gap

Council tax bills in the West Midlands could rise next year to pay for the Wednesbury-Brierley Hill tram line.

The Metro extension through Dudley has been plunged into doubt
The Metro extension through Dudley has been plunged into doubt

The Metro extension through Dudley has been plunged into doubt after bosses split the scheme into two phases due to a huge funding shortfall.

It has now emerged that leaders on the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) are looking at "eight or nine" options to raise the cash needed to build the entire 6.8-mile route.

They include the seven member councils – Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall, Wolverhampton, Birmingham, Coventry and Solihull – increasing their contribution to the transport precept.

Another option would see West Midlands Mayor Andy Street raise the mayoral council tax precept – a move that would break a pledge made when he was re-elected last year.

The cost of delivering the Wednesbury-Brierley Hill line has shot up by more than 20 per cent to £550million, with the pandemic and the war in Ukraine among the factors blamed by bosses.

Dudley Council leader Patrick Harley said he was confident the line would be built in full, with the majority of the funding brought in by borrowing against future patronage.

"At the moment no one has used the tram for the last two years because of Covid, and then when we have got back up and running it has broken down," he said.

"Any business plan based on borrowing against losing nearly two and a half years of patronage is automatically shot to pieces.

"What we need is to have six to 12 months of usual tram usage, then those figures will improve drastically and we will be fine.

"On top of that, there are eight or nine solid options that we are looking at that will bring in more than enough to pay for the Metro, even without the farebox coming back to what it was pre-Covid.

"Some of them may not be particularly attractive to politicians, such as local authorities paying a bit extra into the transport precept and the Mayor imposing a precept.

"But the options are there and we can't keep looking at central government to foot the bill. We'll be looking at each of them carefully to see what is best for everyone involved.

"We won't need to move mountains to get this back on track."

At a meeting last week bosses voted to proceed with the Wednesbury to Dudley section of the line at an expected cost of £385m, while the rest of the route is put on hold until further notice.

If the line is not built in full the WMCA would be forced to pay back a government grant of more than £200m.

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