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Fund cap sparks Manchester fury

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Key projects in Manchester's regeneration are facing disaster because the government has blocked a vital tramlink extension planned to serve the city's flagship projects.

Architects designing the New Islington Millennium Community and Sportscity projects have reacted with anger to transport secretary Alistair Darling's decision not to fund three new Metrolink lines connecting Manchester's northern and eastern districts to the city centre.

Costs on Metrolink have spiralled from £282 million in 2000 to about £900 million and are said by Darling to be 'out of control'. The minister has capped public investment at £520 million and ordered Manchester council to top up funding using 'its own resources'.

But Ian Simpson, who designed the £260 million Sportscity casino and leisure complex, said Darling's action will be a 'disastrous' blow to Manchester. 'It is obscene for the government to make promises of money and then withdraw the offer,' Simpson said.

He stressed that developers viewed Metrolink as a vital component in Manchester's urban renewal. 'It is fundamental to longer-term regeneration and it will be a tragedy if the service can't reach out. It means people will be forced to revert to private transport,' he added.

And New Islington masterplanner Will Alsop also agreed. He said the threat to Metrolink will have a 'severe impact' on regeneration in Manchester's former industrial heartlands.

'Regeneration is 75 per cent dependent on infrastructure improvements. Reversing that will hit regeneration opportunities in those parts of the city that desperately need it,' Alsop said.

He warned that the UK was investing too heavily in feasibility studies at the expense of actual development. 'The Jubilee Line extension was 20 years in discussion before a spade hit the ground. However, the line has had a phenomenal impact on regeneration and has created the possibility for London to host the 2012 Olympic Games,' he added.

Manchester council has vowed to fight Darling's decision. Its leader, Richard Lesse, insisted bus and heavy rail alternatives to Metrolink were neither affordable nor sustainable.

The Metrolink debacle has cast a cloud over New Islington's latest architectural competition. De Metz Architects has been picked by the RIBA to design the second phase of social housing.

by Clive Walker

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