Phil Hewitt and Nafees Arif presented a report which provided an update on progress in delivering the Wednesbury to Brierley Hill Extension (WBHE) to West Midlands Metro subsequent to the WMCA’s approval in December 2017 of the Outline Business Case (OBC) and the application for a Transport and Works Act Order to renew the CPO powers. The report also referred to additional outturn costs for the WBHE and the result of the Final Business Case assessment, sought approval of i) the Final Business Case and funding to cover the increased outturn costs in order to achieve the opening of WBHE by the end of 2023; ii) funding to cover the wider network enhancements; and iii) approval of a scheme of delegation.
Nafees Arif reminded the Board of the benefits which had accrued from working with the Midland Metro Alliance on a number of metro extension schemes and the benefits from the MMA undertaking survey work on a number of structures along the proposed route to reflect more accurately the likely works required.
The Chair referred to paragraphs 4.4 and 4.5 of the report insofar as they referred ‘the generation of economic, social and environmental regeneration of the area’ and queried whether such benefits were deliverable. Phil Hewitt confirmed that they were deliverable in the context of other work which was being carried out in the region and that the metro extension was a key enabler of a wide range of such benefits.
Councillor Peter Lowe reminded the Board that this scheme had been under consideration for some time and had been a key issue at the time of the creation of the West Midlands Combined Authority. He referred to the benefit realisations which would only be delivered once the scheme was approved and drew to the attention of the Board the significance of the scheme to Dudley MBC and other local authorities. He commended the work of the various Officers in advancing the scheme to the current stage. Phil Hewitt referred the Board to paragraph 4.8 of the report which identified a number of initiatives which were already underway in terms of inclusive growth.
Councillor Robert Hulland asked if the scheme to be approved if an assurance could be given that the cost estimates were realistic or whether there would be subsequent requests for additional funding. Nafees Arif advised that he was prepared to give such an assurance especially as the alliance methodology had been used in establishing the estimated costs. He advised that a prudent approach had been adopted in calculating such costs. Phil Hewitt reported that a ‘Value Engineering’ exercise was also underway to reduce costs further by redefining rather than de-scoping works. A final cost estimate would be available in May 2019. He added that there was always ‘unknown unknowns’ which could be encountered but the prudent approach adopted gave confidence in the estimated cost.
The Chair invited Councillor Peter Hughes, Chair of the WMCA overview and Scrutiny Committee to comment on the report and proposals. Councillor Peter Hughes advised that the Overview and Scrutiny Committee had been keen to take an interest in a major project and that the WBHE had been selected. A Working Group had been established and would continue to monitor the scheme as it progressed. The Group had met on 6 March 2019 to consider the report and had raised the following issues some of which had been responded to at that time:
i) Concern had been expressed at the gap between the original estimated cost and the current cost but the reasons for this had been explained;
ii) Going forward it was considered that project papers seeking funding approval should contain a summary outlining key risks, environmental implications and social value benefits – these should also be added to all procurement contracts;
iii) The underlying assumptions used in the calculation of the Net Present Value and Benefit to Cost Ratio had been queried and Nafees Arif had agreed to provide the necessary information;
iv) The Park and Ride facilities proposed and the consequent implications for local residents from unofficial solutions needed to be discussed with local councillors and engagement to take place with local residents. Mitigating such impacts needed to be considered;
v) The carriage of cycles on trams to be given further consideration if integrated transport solutions were to be sought. It was accepted that this issue could be addressed through the Local Cycling and Walking workstream;
vi) The issue of capacity and skills in the labour market was an area of concern and assurances were sought from both the MMA and TfWM;
vii) Training for careers in Light Rail Construction should be open to Ex- Forces members as well as Ex-Offenders;
viii) The need for a partnership approach to be adopted to media announcements together with awareness raising of the work that the WMCA was responsible for in terms of job creation, provision of additional housing units etc. Local councillors were often best placed to assist with awareness raising;
ix) The Overview and Scrutiny Committee wished to be involved as an integral part of the development process.
Phil Hewitt commented that many of the points raised had already been picked up and he confirmed that any information requested could be provided in the format required. He advised that the Park and Ride issues would be investigated as part of the on-going Transport for West Midlands strategic review of Park and Ride. The carriage of cycles on trams was the subject of a long running debate in the industry and he would be happy to take the Committee through this. He reported that he had commissioned a number of reports on this matter to date. He advised that the capacity, capability and skills position was being addressed by the MMA which was working with a number of schools and colleges. This related not to just construction but also maintenance and thus longer term opportunities were available. An apprenticeship in Light Rail construction had been developed by the MMA. He confirmed that opportunities would be made available for Ex-Forces veterans. He acknowledged the importance of the media and that it needed to be co-ordinated between the WMCA, the respective local authorities and the MMA. Councillor Peter Hughes commented that the Overview and Scrutiny Committee had appreciated the opportunity to feed into the process.
The Chair asked Councillor Peter Hughes whether the Overview and Scrutiny Committee were supportive of the proposals. Councillor Peter Hughes confirmed that to be the case.
Councillor Robert Hulland referred to paragraph 10 of the report insofar as it sought a scheme of delegation to Officers and queried the role of this Board and the WMCA Board in overseeing the project. Linda Horne advised that the delegation would also include her as the Section 151 Officer (Proper Officer for Financial Affairs) and that reports on the scheme would be submitted to the Metro Programme Board, this Board via the Investment Fund Update report and to the WMCA Board via the regular revenue and capital monitoring reports. Nafees Arif commented that the relationship with the MMA required ‘open book accounting’ and that his role was to challenge expenditure. Phil Hewitt commented that a quarterly report on all metro extension schemes was also submitted to the Transport Delivery Committee (TDC). Councillor Peter Hughes asked whether reports would also be submitted to the Overview and Scrutiny and Audit, Risk and assurance Committees. Linda Horne reported on a conversation with the Chair of the Audit, Risk and Assurance Committee who was keen that it oversaw the process. A report on this matter would be submitted to the next meeting.
The Chair concluded the discussion by commenting that this scheme encapsulated what the WMCA was set up to achieve in terms of economic, social and environmental regeneration benefits. Whilst the scheme might have been delivered without the WMCA being in existence, the co-ordinated approach was of greater overall benefit.