Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Going underground...

I've not written about the Blunderground/Mike Whitby Vanity Project for a while, but it is back in the news again. It seems that after a year, the feasibility study has been prepared and is about to be published - weeks late.

Horror of horrors, it seems that the Tories may have got their sums wrong. During the campaign last year, they suggested that the whole scheme could have been knocked together for around £200 million. The consultants suggest a cost exceeding £1 billion - which more than doubles when you take into account the cost of building the other Metro lines also required to make the underground worthwhile (I still hold that those are likely to be conservative costings - you can always bank on the final cost being much higher than the estimate where big public projects are involved). Unsurprisingly, this also makes the scheme fail the cost/benefit tests set out by the government - although that doesn't stop Mike W asking them to look again at their standards to try and make the scheme fit.

Apparently the costs have grown because the proposal being brought forward is more comprehensive than the original. Translation - this is a proper proposal rather than one knocked out on the back of an envelope in a desperate search for a winning 'big idea.'

Liberal Democrat 'transport expert' (no laughing at the back, please) Paul Tilsley, now also the driving force behind the cities' Liberal Democrat councillors and Deputy Leader, reckoned that people wouldn't cope with years of disruption to build the above ground Metro in Birmingham. I did point out at the time that building an underground system doesn't actually all take place underground. How do they think that simultaneous construction of lines to Perry Barr, along the Hagley Road and along the Coventry Road (three main arteries into the City) out to the airport will affect lives then? It should happen, but I'm not convinced about the need to do all of it at once.

All this comes to a head as the government agrees to the Snow Hill/Five Ways extension and the other local councils start to lose patience with Birmingham and threaten to go their own way. Even the support of the local business community for above-ground trams doesn't divert the Tories and Liberal Democrats from their mindless pursuit of the Birmingham Blunderground. Even Labour's Albert Bore has weighed in, accusing Whitby and Tilsley of 'flying in the face of reality' by not backing the over-ground Metro.

I could claim that the article I wrote in December was well-researched and prescient (and a lot cheaper than £150K, I might add), but it was more about stating the bleeding obvious. We can build an underground system, but it will be hideously expensive and take two decades to start operations. In six years, we could have the first trams running through the City, for £72 million - that's fourteen years earlier and for a lot less than a tenth of the cost.

Which would you rather pay for?

No comments: