Express & Star

Mayor Andy Street doubles down on Wednesbury to Brierley Hill Metro pledge

The West Midlands Mayor has doubled down on his pledge that a cash-strapped tram route will be completed in full despite another funding shortfall.

Metro track has been put down at Castle Hill in Dudley, but the route continues to be hit by funding issues

Andy Street said the Wednesbury to Brierley Hill Metro extension remained a priority after it emerged the cost of the scheme had shot up to £650million.

The West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) was today [Friday] expected to sign off on plans that will see the second section of the 6.8-mile route, running from Dudley to Brierley Hill, split into three separate construction phases.

The first part will run to Waterfront, with Dudley Council asked to put in cash for the next phase to Merry Hill. The final leg to Brierley Hill High Street is currently unfunded, with transport chiefs considering asking commuters to walk, bus or cycle.

Labour has accused Mr Street of failing to manage the cost of the scheme, which has increased by 45 per cent from its 2019 budget of £449m.

Conservative Mayor Mr Street said: "It’s no secret that we’ve seen a substantial nationwide increase in construction costs in recent years and major projects right across our region unfortunately cannot to be immune to this.

West Midlands Mayor Andy Street insists completing the line in full is a priority

"Despite mounting cost pressures, the WMCA – subject to board approval – has admirably maintained the status of Wednesbury to Brierley Hill as a priority project.

"And together with Dudley Council, we’ve now agreed a plan to extend the tram route into Brierley Hill at Merry Hill and we’re still very much committed to completing the route all the way through to Brierley Hill High Street.

“Some doubted that we would find the funding to take the tram on to Merry Hill and I’m pleased to say that we’ve proved the naysayers wrong - much to the benefit of local people in the months and years ahead.”

Richard Parker, Labour’s candidate for the West Midlands Mayor at next year's election in 2024, said he was deeply frustrated at the latest developments.

He said Mr Street had demonstrated "a failure to manage costs and a failure to prioritise the needs of the Brierley Hill communities who depend on public transport and were promised the new tram line".

"This project has seen one delay after another and yet again the people of Brierley Hill are being let down by Tory failure," Mr Parker added. "Faster, more reliable connectivity throughout the West Midlands region is vital for all of us and was a key Conservative manifesto pledge."

Mr Parker has pledged to make "fast, safe, affordable public transport" a key priority.

A report to the WMCA board says that a new business case for the scheme is being drawn up that reflects "the scale of cost increase".

It will be presented to ministers in a bid to persuade them that it still represents value for money.

The Wednesbury to Brierley Hill extension was split into two phases last year after costs went up by £100m. Phase One, which comes off the main Wolverhampton to Birmingham line at the Great Western Street stop and runs through Tipton to Dudley, is scheduled to open next year.