£2.5m tram project has gone off the rails

Lincoln Shields, of Trampower, with the tram that has been stored in Preston for more than a year
Lincoln Shields, of Trampower, with the tram that has been stored in Preston for more than a year
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TRAMS bought as part of a multi-million pound transport plan for Preston have been gathering dust for almost two years as the long-running plans remain stalled, it has been revealed.

A £1m City Class tram has been in storage, in two parts, for months in anticipation of plans being approved for the first phase of a tram line in Deepdale in the city.

But applications over the years have been derailed time and time again, meaning the tram is still confined to storage despite £2.5m being spent on the project to date.

It was brought to Ribbleton in 2010 when it was shown to the public, before being moved to St Helens and then eventually returning to Preston where it has remained unused ever since.

Latest proposals, backed by planning experts at a Preston-based consultancy, are awaiting a decision from Preston Council, and those behind the plans are optimistic of bringing a major tram network to Preston.

Professor Lewis Lesley, technical director of Trampower, said: “The tram has been there more than a year because we were expecting to get planning permission agreed last year.

“It was turned down because it was alleged the tram would be noisy and cause traffic chaos.

“We’ve now got a planning application which is to be considered, and we have addressed the issues that led to its rejection of noise and traffic congestion, so we don’t believe there are any grounds left for objection. We have contractors on standby ready to go on site in July and start the groundwork, and we are hoping, by the end of the year, we will have enough track and we’ll use the tram (currently in storage) and we’ll be able to run it up and down.

“It is one complete tram, but we are going to build another six to complement it with a peak service.”

Prof Lesley described the rejections of the proposals as “very frustrating”, and said: “I’m afraid (the tram) has been gathering dust.

“Moving a tram isn’t a cheap exercise, so we have to be careful when and where we move it.

“That’s why it’s stayed there, and we are anticipating we are about to get planning permission.”

The tram is in a central location in Preston, but bosses say they are reluctant to reveal its current home after it was previously targeted and damaged at a previous site.

The tram last ran in Blackpool in 2007, and previously ran in Birkenhead, after being made in the North West.

Prof Lesley said it had cost £1m to build, and said it would cost six times £1m for new trams for Preston.

He said: “It has cost £2.5m to get where we are.

“That’s including all the running trials, it includes testing the track in Sheffield, putting up our trial overhead at Carnforth Railway Centre, all the submissions and documents we’ve had to make, and it’s all come from private investment.”

He said plans were to use part of the former track from Deepdale Road to Church Street and onto Fishergate to the railway station, and also from West View to the M6 near J31a, along the old railway line towards Longridge.

Fellow Trampower director Lincoln Shields said: “We were expecting planning approval in March last year, which got refused.

“You just get used to being knocked back. But you begin to wonder in this country whether anybody wants to make progress.

“The public wants this, because we have done a survey.”

He said Preston faced problems of pollution and traffic congestion, and said: “Our tram proposals will help address both problems.”

A study found Preston was among the UK’s 25 most congested, with figures showing commuters can spend an extra 127 hours a year, or five whole days, stuck behind the wheel.