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Light rail plans 'lacked strategy'

Government accused of complacency over transport schemes

THE GOVERNMENT was accused of deliberately letting a host of proposed light rail schemes fail by angry politicians last week.

Members of the public accounts select committee criticised the Department for Transport's top mandarin David Rowland after the Government put three major light rail programmes on hold in the summer.

Labour MP Gerry Steinberg said: 'There was a half-hearted attempt to introduce them.You seem totally complacent that they have failed and your department is to blame.You never had a strategy.

'I think that there has been a policy decision to let them fail.'

Mr Rowland denied the allegations. He said: 'No such policy decision has been taken, and we have no wish to kill them off.

We learn from our mistakes.'

A National Audit Office report, published earlier this year, criticised the Government's handling of light rail schemes for a lack of strategy, no integration with other forms of transport, over-optimistic passenger predictions and a lack of standardisation.

Transport secretary Alistair Darling withdrew final approval from the Leeds Supertram, the third phase of the Manchester Metrolink and the South Hampshire Rapid Transit due to escalating costs.

Mr Rowland said the Department for Transport was considering revised proposals for the Manchester project and would consider alternatives for the Leeds scheme.

He said: 'There is a strong case for proceeding, depending on the business cases.'

But Mr Rowland added there was 'little chance' of seeing the 25 new light rail schemes envisaged in the 10 Year Transport Plan produced four years ago.

Committee chairman Edward Leigh said: 'Clearly the brave new world of light rail is nowhere near realisation.'

DfT keeps tabs on spending

THE DEPARTMENT for Transport is setting up its own local major projects division to keep closer tabs on infrastructure spending by local authorities.The DfT's permanent secretary, David Rowland, announced the move to politicians at a select committee hearing last week.

A spokeswoman said the move was part of plans to tighten up procurement in the department and was being set up within the next month. She said: 'The new local major projects division will encompass things such as light rail projects, road infrastructure schemes and maintenance.We provide local authorities with 75 per cent of their spending on transport and want to ensure the money is spent correctly.'

Mr Rowland also told MPs that the division would reduce reliance on external consultants by developing internal expertise.

The Civil Engineering Contractors Association is campaigning for tighter monitoring of transport spending in local government and welcomed the move.