THE £40M GAMBLE

By DAVID MARSH Leeds Supertram, which the city is desperately trying to save, has so far cost taxpayers £40m.

The scheme now faces an uncertain future amid fears the Government will not fund the cost of 800m-1,000m – almost double the expected sum.

The bulk of the cash has been spent on buying land.

Work on building the three lines, which will cover a total of 28km, has now been delayed by ministers.

Transport Secretary Alistair Darling has asked the city to see if savings can be made, leading to widespread concerns that the plug will be pulled on Supertram in Leeds.

Defended

Metro – West Yorkshire's Passenger Transport Executive which is heading the project – defended the sums so far invested.

A Metro spokesman said: "The 40m that has been invested in Supertram is in line with the pre-bidding period for other similar projects such as Manchester's Metrolink.

"As soon as all statutory powers and formal written approval for Supertram were received from the Government in 2001, the process of buying land began. This avoids costly and lengthy delays.

"A successful consortium would expect to be able to begin work as soon as possible after being awarded a contract.

"It was therefore important to purchase complicated plots of land, such as at Stourton for the tram depot, as soon as possible.

"Because land increases in value, purchases were carried out as swiftly as possible to help reduce overall costs. All the land purchased would now realise more than its cost if sold."

But Coun Andrew Carter, Leeds City Council's Tory group leader, said: "(This] merely underlines the predicament that Metro and the city council are in and graphically highlights the shambles the Government has created.

Estimates

"Land values can rise but those values in south Leeds without Supertram could prove to be a different matter."

Original estimates for the project were about 500m, with the Government expected to contribute about 355m, but tenders for the work proved to be much higher. Metro and the council want the Government to increase its contribution.

Leeds's private and public sectors are now united in a campaign to persuade ministers to press ahead with Supertram, arguing that the scheme will bring benefits – including jobs and investment – which far outweigh the cost. Coun Keith Wakefield, council leader, said: "The fact that we have already committed 40m shows how determined we are to make it happen.

"As demonstrated by the all-party support at the council meeting on Wednesday and the lobby by local business leaders, people from across the city are determined in their campaign to get the Government to back Supertram."

david.marsh@ypn.co.uk