Sheffield Supertram renewal could cost up to £230m

Supertram has been operated by Stagecoach since 1994
Supertram has been operated by Stagecoach since 1994
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Transport chiefs are drawing up plans to renew Sheffield's Supertram network, which could cost up to £230 million.

But they have refused to be drawn on whether the service might be expanded in future, despite growing calls for an extension to Stocksbridge.

Stocksbridge Councillor Jack Clarkson says a tram or rail link to the city centre is desperately needed to ease road congestion

Stocksbridge Councillor Jack Clarkson says a tram or rail link to the city centre is desperately needed to ease road congestion

South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive (SYPTE), which owns the tram network, was awarded £1.573m by the Government at the end of last year to prepare a business case for up to £230m of further investment.

Ben Gilligan, the organisation's director of public transport, said it was working to identify which aspects of the existing network would need to be renewed when, from the trams themselves to tracks, overhead lines and stops.

It hopes to complete its draft proposals for funding next year, before submitting a final case to the Department for Transport in 2019.

Mr Gilligan made it clear the study was about renewing existing services, not introducing additional routes or trams, and that the £230m figure was a very loose estimate of what might be available to bid for.

Ben Gilligan, SYPTE's director of public transport

Ben Gilligan, SYPTE's director of public transport

He said Sheffield City Region was embarking on a separate project to look at the future transport provision across South Yorkshire, which would encompass the possibility of additional tram routes.

"I think the tram network as it stands is a good model. It's successful, it's growing and it has reasonably high levels of satisfaction," he told The Star.

"There will be additional capacity next year when the tram train to Rotherham is launched.

"I think we have a compelling case for maintaining the current provision.

Angela Smith MP says a tram link to Stocksbridge is sorely needed

Angela Smith MP says a tram link to Stocksbridge is sorely needed

"I'm agnostic on whether there's a strong case to extend or not.

"I think we should explore all the options for improving connectivity in the city region. It's not just about Sheffield."

Political differences within the wider city region could hinder any plans to extend Sheffield's tram network, with other authorities potentially reluctant to contribute towards services from which they would not benefit directly.

Indeed, Barnsley Council leader Sir Steve Houghton recently cited the cost of Supertram as a factor in pulling out of the £900m Sheffield City Region devolution deal.

SYPTE held a public consultation at the end of last year asking for people's views on the existing Supertram service and what changes they would like to see.

It never released the results at the time, though The Star has since requested them.

But The Star's own Facebook poll, in which 2,000 readers voted, showed huge support for trams to be extended to Oughtibridge and Stocksbridge.

That was the preferred option for nearly a third of voters (31 per cent), ahead of an extension to Northern General Hospital (16 per cent), Killamarsh (12 per cent), Ecclesall and Dore (11 per cent) and Barnsley (five per cent).

Bus services between Stocksbridge and Sheffield city centre were recently reduced, and proponents of extending the tram network there believe the existing freight line from Rotherham to Stocksbridge could be used, reducing the cost.

Stocksbridge councillor Jack Clarkson this week said it 'desperately needs' a rail connection to the city centre, as the roads are struggling to cope, while the area's MP Angela Smith said it was 'vital' SYPTE reconsiders extending the tram service there.

Responding to their calls, Mr Gilligan said: "What we would have to do is to understand whether the level of demand is there in Stocksbridge that would justify the investment, and the level of frequency we could provide.

"We have to be realistic. Lots of people might want a tram to Dore and Totley or Stocksbridge, but we have to weigh up the costs and consider what the demand would realistically be if that was built."

Even if plans were drawn up to extend the tram network, he added, it could take 10 years from making that decision to the new service launching.

Stagecoach has operated Sheffield Supertram since 1994 but the commission is up for renewal in 2024.

The second phase of a £32m track replacement project on the tram network is due to begin next spring and be completed in autumn 2019.