A number of people have asked me recently for further details about a ‘plan’ to introduce trams back into Coventry. There has been some publicity in the local media about it and I thought I would take this opportunity to clarify what it is all about.
As you know, as well as being a local Councillor in St. Michael’s Ward, I am also the Coventry City Council Cabinet Member for Jobs and Regeneration. In short, this is the policy area which looks at inward investment, redevelopment, transport, tourism and many other exciting areas.
So, one of the first questions I asked on taking the job was: is our public transport system good enough in Coventry?
In general, the answer has been a resounding no! The question then is what to do about it?
You will have heard about the proposed High Speed Two (HS2) train which the government are pressing on with. Whether, you, I or anyone else agrees with the principle, the government are progressing with it, the biggest construction project this country has seen for decades? Its first stop from London will be right next to the NEC which is just a few short miles from Coventry down the A45.
You will also be aware of the new Combined Authority for the West Midlands which Coventry is a member of. Again, this is a government construct which they are determined to press ahead with as part of their devolution agenda. It has many flaws that we are all aware of but one of its potential strengths is that it comes with new government money and borrowing powers. The idea is that this will encourage further investment in the area and create jobs for local people.
This got me thinking.
Other than road and the train to Birmingham, how will Coventry be linked up to HS2?
The answer? A bus I was told! A sprint bus to be exact. However, it is clear there is no great desire nor love for this idea so I asked about alternatives.
I was told we have a world class organisation in Coventry developing alternatives to traditional trams and buses! Very Light Rail (VLR) is its name. This is happening at the Warwick Manufacturing Group at Warwick University in Coventry. It is light, flexible and more importantly, cheaper than traditional types of trams. It doesn’t require heavy infrastructure alterations either such as overhead cables or road and bridge strengthening. Surely, I should ask that we examine and explore this opportunity? If we can get the Combined Authority to free up some of the £370M agreed as part of the devolution deal to join the authority, we will be in business.
You might ask why though? Well, why not?
When was the last time Coventry had a unique, new and revolutionary public transport system? It could be linked to Jaguar Land Rover in Whitley and beyond. Coventry could have VLR running in and out of Warwick University who employ thousands of people. And it could eventually be linked up to HS2 and even a new Birmingham Airport with a second runway. We could build it too.
The opportunity is there and the economic prize for Coventry and our population is great. It would mean new jobs, a new 21st Century transport system and yes, a tourist attraction for Coventry too.
I owe it to our citizens to at the very least see what is possible and practical.