The National Audit Office has examined the role of of the Department for Transport in assessing the revised proposals for light rail schemes in Leeds, Manchester and South Hampshire.
Funding for these three schemes was originally approved by the Department in 2000 and 2001. But substantial increases in projected costs led to the Department withdrawing its funding approval in July 2004. Revised proposals for all three schemes were presented to the Department between November 2004 and February 2006. Funding for new light rail schemes in Leeds and South Hampshire was refused and the extension of Manchester’s network approved. Today’s review focussed on the period after July 2004.
The review found that the Department’s evaluation of the schemes was robust and the options it put to to Ministers to enable them make their decisions were presented in a fair and even handed way. The evaluations carried out by the Department showed that all three of the schemes were positive in cost benefit terms. But the Department’s evaluation also indicated that the Leeds scheme was likely to be less cost effective than an alternative Bus Rapid Transit Scheme proposed for that area.
The evaluation and decision making process took a long time. It was five years and one month and four years and five months between the Leeds and South Hampshire schemes originally being submitted and rejected.
The Department could also have communicated better with promoters in terms of what criteria the proposals would have had to meet to be approved. A clearer steer in July 2004 of what sort of costs were acceptable would have helped promoters decide whether to submit a revised proposal at all.