All prospect of City Hall or the government stumping up the £330million-plus needed to build an extension to the Croydon tram network appears to have vanished. Finance reports released last week by Transport for London show that further delays to Crossrail have gobbled up the budget to the point where TfL admit to having “maxed out” on borrowing, forcing the postponement of a series of infrastructure projects throughout the capital.
The tram network, operating over 26 miles of track from Beckenham to Wimbledon across south London, has been a welcome addition to public transport provision since it opened in 2000. But after 20 years of steady growth in passenger numbers, the trams are still awaiting the first significant extension to the network.
Boris Johnson failed to deliver an already costed and funded tram extension from Croydon to Crystal Palace when he was London Mayor, despite promising the scheme in three election campaigns.
And a more recently proposed tram extension scheme, intended to connect Wimbledon and Merton through to Sutton, now appears dead in the water because of lack of available investment money, as Crossrail – the £17.6billion Elizabeth Line – sucks up resources through its two-year delay.
It has been reported this week that TfL has postponed nearly half a billion pounds in capital spending during its latest financial year, while its debts climbed past £11billion.
Figures released in the past week show TfL’s borrowing increase by £728million over the year. Sadiq Khan’s fare freeze and a £700million a year reduction in government grant has put further pressure on London’s transport finances.
TfL’s director of planning, Alex Williams, said this week that TfL had “maxed out” its borrowing and said it would need to seek Treasury approval if it wanted to take out more. “There is no more we can do on that front,” he said.
With other projects underway, such as the Northern Line extension to Battersea Power Station, and emergency works required to save the Listed-status Hammersmith Bridge, it all means that tram extension lines have been shunted well down London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s priority list.
As recently as this January, Khan told a City Hall meeting that he hoped that a Sutton tram extension might be operational by the middle of the 2020s. “While improved public transport in Sutton and Merton has been an aspiration for many years, development of options to deliver this improvement is far more advanced than it ever has been before,” said Khan, whose father used to drive a London bus, in case you didn’t know.
“If the funding needed can be secured quickly and if there are no delays in gaining planning consent then services could commence in the mid-2020s,” he said then.
But the tram extension into Sutton town centre would cost £330million, with a further line going to the “cancer hub” at the Royal Marsden Hospital at Belmont, Sutton council leader Ruth Dombey’s dream project, would cost at least £100million more.
So far TfL has only committed £70million. Sutton and Merton councils between them have committed to chipping in £30million.
The chunky balance required would therefore need to come from private sources, something which does not seem likely to materialise any time soon.
As one suitably cynical source at Sutton’s Civic Offices said, “It looks as if Croydon could get its Westfield shopping centre before we ever see the trams running to Sutton town centre.”
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I am a blogger about infrastructure. I have visited large parts of Europe, seeing the technological and engineering solutions used to provide better urban transport.
I believe that tram-trains could be devised, that could work on both the Tramlink and the maze of third rail lines in South London. If you add in the battery tecnology now being rolled out in Birmingham, I believe that the Tramlink could be substaqntially extended at a much lower cost and with little disruption.