Midland Metro extension work across the Black Country 'will begin next year'
Multi-million pound plans for a Midland Metro extension link from Wednesbury to Brierley Hill 'will start' next year, according to a council chief.
The scheme, which has been in the pipeline for nearly two decades, finally looks set to get off the ground after gaining Government backing.
West Midlands Combined Authority bosses have said the Metro extension is set to be the first project completed as part of the region's devolution deal.
The extension runs for around seven miles from the existing line at Wednesbury to Great Bridge.
Under plans it would continue to Horseley Heath, Dudley Port, Dudley town centre, the Waterfront and Merry Hill, before terminating at Brierley Hill town centre.
Business leaders have hailed its potential impact on the region's economy.
Dudley Council chief executive Sarah Norman tweeted: "Good progress on Brierley Hill Metro reported at @WestMids_CA Board Meeting.
"Will start in 2017 & be first Devo deal scheme completed."
Black Country LEP board member Ninder Johal said: "For too long this region - and other parts of the UK – have been blighted by poor infrastructure.
"If we're going to continue to attract inward investment then infrastructure is the number one priority.
"The formation of the West Midlands Combined Authority and the devolved funding it will bring will hopefully bring much improved infrastructure.
"The extension from Wednesbury to Brierley Hill is an example of that and also ties in with the extra investment into the Merry Hill shopping centre by intu."
Dudley Council's Conservative group leader Patrick Harley said the move was a statement of intent by the Combined Authority.
"This is something people have been talking about as a pipe dream for about 20 years," he said.
"If we can get this done and people can see the construction, preparation and clearing of sites for tracks as quickly as 12 months' time it will give them confidence in the merits of the combined authority.
A report is due to be brought before the Combined Authority in March
According to board papers, chiefs will seek 'approval to progress the early delivery works in 2017-18 and submit an outline business case to Government'.