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Merseytram fails to win vital local cash

NEWS - Liverpool transport plan now depends on plea to Government to underwrite it

THE BACKERS of the stalled Merseytram project are planning to go back to the Government with a begging bowl after local authorities failed to come up with vital cash.

Enabling works are already under way and Laing O'Rourke is due to start the main contract next month. But the scheme, which proposes an 11-mile rail link between Kirkby and Liverpool city centre, is still not guaranteed due to a lack of cash.

The project first hit trouble earlier this year when transport secretary Alistair Darling capped the Government grant at £170 million. This left a shortfall of £20 million.

None of the five Merseyside councils involved in the scheme will underwrite the sum, meaning transport authority Merseytravel must go back to the Government and ask it to underwrite the missing millions.

A source said: 'It is obvious that the city council doesn't want the Merseytram. They're doing everything they can to delay it and won't underwrite this £20 million, which would only be needed if absolutely everything went wrong.

'The problem for them is that the tram now has public backing. So the city council is acting like they're trying to make it work but delaying it enough so that deadlines are missed.' A Merseytram spokesman said it must find out whether it can go ahead by October 4 at the latest.

This is when the f leet of trams must be ordered.

After the five councils met on Monday a spokeswoman said: 'The group has met consistently over the past three months and all parties reaffirmed their view that the tram is one of the key regeneration projects for the region.

'They discussed the financial package, looking in detail at the costs and how to fund them, and agreed to seek a further meeting with the transport minister to update him on the current position.' The Government has previously said all the councils must sign up to the financial package before it can continue. If neither the councils nor the Government will underwrite the cost, Merseytravel said it will consider using money from the Mersey road tolls.

Liverpool City Council has already agreed that work can continue on the tram during 2008, Liverpool's year as Capital of Culture, lifting a previous moratorium.