Guest blog: Liberal Democrat Stuart Monkcom on the Merseytram 'myths'
Now that hundreds of Notices to Treat (the prelude to Compulsory Purchase Orders) have just been issued by Merseytravel in respect of Merseytram Line 1 (referred to hereafter as Merseytram) and the construction of a Park & Ride facility at Gillmoss has commenced in order to avoid losing the Planning Permission granted in 2005, the real impact of this ludicrous project is starting to make its presence felt. I am therefore outlining once again my opposition to this scheme which, from its outset, has proved to be one of the most controversial and unnecessary preoccupations this city has ever experienced.
The notion that Liverpool will never qualify as a premier European city unless we have trams running round it, convinces me that the entire concept is driven by considerations of prestige rather than necessity but worse still, very few people understand or appreciate the level of disruption and frustration that a ÃÂ£500M-plus construction scheme will have on their daily lives as they have to come to terms with a 'big dig' the like of which they will have never known previously and which will continue for years if it ever happens.
Nearly everyone I talk to about Merseytram is horrified to learn that its route involves the demolition of the Churchill Way flyovers in the city centre, the permanent closure of one carriageway of West Derby Road and the wanton destruction of over 100 of the most beautiful mature trees on the central reservation of Muirhead Avenue, despite the fact that this information has been available for many years already and can be seen by searching Google for 'Merseytram Line 1'. This clearly indicates to me that people are generally unaware of the route, the implications for the city's infrastructure and the cost implications of a revenue deficit situation even if the capital costs were ever forthcoming.
Artists' impressions of lovely-looking trams gliding through the city with grace and serenity do nothing but lull the population into a false sense of acceptability as if the tram will simply appear on the streets one day to rapturous applause and without the slightest inconvenience to anyone. It is also incomprehensible to understand how a tram 'regenerates' the districts through which it passes when there are bus or train services which more than adequately provide for current transportation needs in such areas of the city. The Kirkby route, serving a number of locations along its meandering path, is duplicated by a convenient train service from Kirkby to Liverpool taking 20 minutes compared to the 45 minutes by tram even though tram stops are only every quarter of a mile or so.
However, one of the greatest causes for concern is Revenue Deficit. Virtually all the attention is currently focussed on the capital cost of the scheme (currently ÃÂ£450M and rising) with no apparent consideration of cost over-run which is inherent in all light rail projects or the possibility of revenue deficit if the project ever reaches fulfilment. In 2006, for example, Manchester's Altram accounts showed a loss of ÃÂ£8M due to overoptimistic passenger projections, while in the West Midlands the Midland Metro, also operated by Altram, showed losses of about ÃÂ£16M. Worst of all, down in London, Tramtrack Croydon Ltd recorded debts of ÃÂ£100M and was seeking financial restructuring in order to continue trading.
The myth that people will leave their cherished car (or cars) on the driveway and walk a quarter mile in the pouring rain to catch a tram beggars belief. Since deregulation we have a plethora of buses most of which, apart from at peak times, can be observed running around with only one or two passengers aboard and this is obviously why the British Department for Transport has commissioned studies into dealing with 'Optimism Bias in Transport Planning'. So what are the alternatives if we are to remain risk-averse? The obvious answer would seem to be to consider improving and expanding Merseyrail which, outside of London, is the best underground and surface local rail scheme in the UK. For how this could be done and the benefits it could bring, visit http://myweb.tiscali.co.uk/watercity/Merseyrail-Extensions.html where you will find a comprehensive analysis of the subject.
You might be forgiven for thinking I am totally anti-tram but a line from the airport to the city centre would have my support especially if it followed the banks of the Mersey without affecting the infrastructure of the south end of Liverpool. Better still, an elevated rapid-transit scheme such as has been provided in London's Docklands could also link into Liverpool Waters and Wirral Waters, restoring in a 21st century context the much loved former Liverpool overhead railway.
Stuart Monkcom is a Liberal Democrat on Liverpool Council, he represents the West Derby ward.