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Firms wait for £30m bus plan

CONTRACTS STOCKPORT WEST MIDLANDS

THE GOVERNMENT is expected to give the green light to a radical £30 million transport plan in the West Midlands that will make car drivers see red.

Project managers on the deal in Walsall are waiting on the Department for Transport's decision before appointing either Vinci or services giant Serco as preferred bidder.

The scheme covers a new computer system that will automatically change traffic lights as buses approach, forcing motorists to stop and allowing buses to pass by unhindered.

Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council planners hope the network will provide a solution to the town's traffic congestion problems.

The Private Finance Initiative scheme also includes £15 million-worth of improvements to bus lanes.The deal was first advertised in March 2001 but ran into trouble when bids exceeded the budget set by the council.

Project bosses have spent months preparing a new business case to persuade the DfT to hand over extra cash.

Steve Pretty, who is managing the deal for the council, said the DfT's project review group is due to meet next week to make a final decision on funding.

According to sources close to the project, if the new system is a success other councils are likely to follow suit with similar deals.

One contractor who is watching the Walsall deal closely said: 'There is potentially a huge prize if this sort of work takes off. It is an unusual combination of technology and construction work but, if you can put the right team together, it could be pretty lucrative.'

The initial work is likely to take between two and four years, with the management contract covering a further 20 years.

If the deal gets the thumbs-up, the council wants to reach financial close next May, with work starting the following month.