MONEY FOR NOTHING
Bristol's ill-fated supertram project cost council tax payers £1.5 million - and it never turned a wheel. The Evening Post has discovered, using new right-to-know legislation, how much the city council spent on the scheme during the four years before it was scrapped.
The money was spent on surveys, feasibility studies, consultants' fees and legal work.
The same amount could pay for:
l 50 teachers for a year.
l The city's doomed meals-on-wheels service for three years.
l The city's night bus service for nearly eight years.
Under the new Freedom of Information Act, which became law on January 1, we asked the city council how much it spent on the controversial £200 million supertram scheme between April 1, 1998, and April 2004.
The council's answer was: "The city council's financial contribution to the supertram scheme was in the order of £1.5 million. The majority of this was consultants' fees, reflecting the specialised nature of the work.
"This was all 'preparatory work', covering engineering feasibility and design, economic appraisal and procurement."
On hearing how much the council had spent, the leader of the city's Tories, Peter Abraham, said: "This is an absolute disgrace and proved to be a total waste of money - not because the project was a bad one but because it was mismanaged from beginning to end.
"I also think there were delays and a lack of urgency, so while schemes in other parts of the country were forging ahead, we were, in the eyes of the Department for Transport, lagging behind."
But cabinet councillor Helen Holland, who spearheaded the supertram project, said she did not believe the cost was "overly large" considering the amount of work done in order to secure Government financial backing.
She said: "You cannot make that kind of permanent investment for such a large project without putting that kind of money in to start with. Compared with other light rail projects, up and down the country, the amount we spent does not seem overly large. You also have to bear in mind that this was over a six-year period.
"I would also say that this money has not just gone down the drain. We have made sure that the land for the routes has been reserved and the work which was done will stand us in good stead for any future schemes.
"I am convinced that Bristol will eventually have a rapid transport system because the work that was done on the supertram proved that public transport of that quality was needed in order to persuade people to leave their cars at home."
The supertram project was officially pronounced dead in June last year after councillors decided to use another £1.5 million, which had been earmarked for preparatory work, to keep down this year's council tax increase. Councillors were told the news at a meeting before Christmas 2003.
Councillors and senior council officials to Whitehall discovered that the Government had begun to blow cold on light rail schemes, but a definitive statement on the demise of the supertram was never issued by the city council or the Department for Transport.
Instead, it became increasingly clear that the scheme was no longer viable. One of the biggest blows was a row over the siting of the route's northern terminus. The city council wanted to built it at Almondsbury while South Gloucestershire Council insisted on a site at Cribbs Causeway.
Dave Redgewell, Bristol spokesman for the pressure group Transport 2000, said: "They have spent that money but what have we got to show for it - a bit of land which has been reserved for the proposed route and some sites for the stations.
"We will never get a decent public transport system unless the political bickering stops."