It is likely to be at least eight years before construction of any new extension to Nottingham’s tram network can begin, the operator’s senior manager says.
Past studies of potential extensions have included a route to Gedling Village via Nottingham Racecourse and the new Teal Close development.
Initial estimates before the Covid pandemic suggested this extension would cost between £96 and £116 million.
Other potential routes included one to the now-cancelled HS2 Hub at Toton and on to Long Eaton, and another from Clifton South to the new Fairham development.
It was said the extensions together could open up the tram network to over 11 million additional passengers.
Tim Hesketh, the chief executive officer of Tramlink, the group of companies behind the network, described them as “readily achievable extensions”.
He also said the extensions, which were in Nottingham City Council’s feasibility plans before the Covid pandemic, have now “effectively been shelved as the funding to take it to the next stage has been used for other things”.
He explained the City Council is not “in a position to do anything” following the issuing of a Section 114 notice, effectively declaring bankruptcy, at the end of November.
Instead he says hope now lies in the creation of the new East Midlands Combined County Authority, being created this year.
The devolution deal will put more money and power in the hands of local politicians, and an election for a regional mayor is due to take place in May.
“It is a complicated situation,” Mr Hesketh said.
“In truth there is nothing that is going to come from the City Council in extending the network any time soon.
“But as funding of transport strategy moves to the combined county authority, they have a lot of capital funding coming from central government and devolved authority over how they spend it.
“A lot of it is specifically targeted at sustainable transport. So if there was going to be an extension to the tram network it would likely come through the mayoral authority.
“Having said that these things don’t happen overnight. What we have discussed is that if they want to be able to extend the tram, or work on extensions immediately after the expiry of our contract in 2034, they need to start working on it now.
“They would have to go through a very long and tortuous public consultation exercise, they would have to put a transport works order and an Act of Parliament through Parliament.
“It is a minimum five, probably eight to ten year process, before they even put a spade in the ground.”
Responding, a spokeswoman for the City Council added: “The East Midlands Combined County Authority is being awarded £1.5bn from the City Region Sustainable Transport Settlement Fund.
“In using these funds it will need to consider which schemes best meet its objectives across the Combined Authority area.
“NET extensions, as well as any changes to the existing system that might have a business case, are certain to be looked at as part of that review, which is something Nottingham City Council welcomes.”
Some believe there may also be hope in the axing of HS2, including the revised plans for a station at East Midlands Parkway, and the resulting left over money from the cancellation.
The Department for Transport (DfT) said the East Midlands would receive £9.6bn in transport investment, funded by the cancellation of HS2, and some of this money could be used to pay for an extension past Clifton South, according to Cllr Ben Bradley, leader of Nottinghamshire County Council and Mansfield’s Conservative MP.
Mr Bradley says there may be further scope to extend to Ratcliffe-on-Soar and towards East Midlands Airport.
He said: “It is absolutely fair to say the City Council is in no position to invest in it at all, if anything it is struggling to keep it running, so the combined authority comes at a really good time not just for the tram but also wider transport connections.
“Having all of that stuff, trams buses, all organised in one place means it can be a much more integrated service, and yes we can look at the potential for tram extensions.
“There are two things to that. One is the tram needs to be commercially viable, so we need to look at how we do that, but there is new capital investment, £1.5bn transport fund, £4bn overall, and actually adding routes to the right places to bring additional passengers might help balance the books.
“It will be five to ten years to bring something like that to fruition. One of the first things the mayor will need to do is decide if they want to look at route extensions [and which ones].”
Before the shelving of the City Council’s plans, the authority had also pledged to support neighbouring Broxtowe Borough Council in its investigation of an extension from Phoenix Park.
Kimberley’s Cllr Will Mee (Lab) says there have been a series of feasibility studies conducted since the early 1990s for routes in the north of Broxtowe.
He says the A610 corridor and tens of thousands of people are currently only served by one single-deck bus service and traffic is therefore “a massive problem”.
“Something has to be done,” he said.
“It has been a long standing policy of Broxtowe Borough Council to support tram extensions in the north of the borough.
“This would include an extension from Phoenix Park serving the areas of Nuthall, Watnall, Kimberley and Giltbrook retail park, with a view to extend further to Eastwood and Amber Valley.
“If the tram is to extend it must be to as many places as possible, with integrated ticketing across the buses, tram and regional train services, also opening up old lines like the Maid Marian Line to increase train services to Amber Valley.”
However Mr Hesketh said some residents in Beeston and Chilwell are still “smarting” from the disruption of having the tram extension built through in 2011 to 2015.
It is another high hurdle that must be tackled before any plans move forwards, he said.
“Several small businesses went out of business,” he said.
“But if you look now at the regeneration it has boosted in the area and the inward investment into Beeston town centre and Chilwell High Road, and the increase in house prices, yes there are a lot of eggs that require breaking but the omelette is well worth waiting for in the long run.”