Two councils paid out a total of nearly £3.5m to 128 businesses affected by the construction of Nottingham’s expanded tram network, it has been revealed.
A report by Mike Barnett, team manager for major projects and improvements at Via East Midlands – which manages highways services on behalf of Nottinghamshire County Council – has outlined the first year of the operation of the network, which opened last August after three years of building work.
It adds the county council and Nottingham City Council agreed multiple financial packages to support traders hit by tram works: the Financial Assistance Package (FAP), the Exceptional Disturbance Allowance (EDA) and a separate hardship fund.
In total, the city council’s contribution to the FAP and EDA was just under £2m – which includes payments to businesses in Beeston and on Chilwell Road - while the county council paid £1,234,959 to affected businesses accessing the FAP and EDA.
Meanwhile, both authorities contributed £100,000 each to the separate hardship fund, which was designed for traders “experiencing particular financial difficulties during the construction period”.
A city council spokeswoman said a total of 128 businesses across the network benefitted from the FAP and EDA.
Meanwhile, 22 businesses have received money from the hardship fund.
The extended network to park and ride sites in Toton and Clifton added 17.5km of new track and 28 new stops.
Figures reported to the Department of Transport revealed 12.15 million people used the Nottingham’s trams between April 2015 and March 2016 – which includes seven months’ usage of the extended network.
Meanwhile, between April 2014 and March 2015, a total of 8.1 million people used the tram network.
And passenger surveys undertaken by Tramlink revealed more than 30% of tram users used to make their journeys by car, and are now using the tram for all their journeys or are using park and ride sites.
The report added vacancy rates at retail and leisure premises in Beeston fell by 10% since April 2014, when the extended network was still under construction.
“The national average most recently reported in April 2016 is… 10% which casts the figure for Beeston in very good terms,” the report said.
In addition, plans have been drawn up for a dedicated entrance into the Queen’s Medical Centre from the hospital’s tram platform.
Councillors discussed the report at Thursday’s transport and highways committee meeting at County Hall.
Beeston South and Attenborough ward councillor Kate Foale, said: “The [tram] construction caused so much grief and destruction in Beeston…so it’s good to see it’s going well.
“I’m glad we extended the FAP, but I wonder if we could have reassurances that all businesses knew about it.”
Mr Barnett replied: “As far as I’m aware, there was a lot of publicity around that.”
But Chilwell and Toton councillor Richard Jackson felt the report “only told half the story”.
“I’d like to see what usage was expected to be at this stage,” he said. “Taxpayers’ money has gone into this and we need to know if we have got value for money.
“I’d also like to see what it’s done in terms of reducing congestion because in my own experience, it hasn’t.”
Mr Jackson said, despite the councils’ payouts, affected businesses – particularly on Chilwell High Road - have still “made considerable losses”.
“I met a group of Chilwell High Road traders recently,” he said. “They are very concerned and some of them are on the verge of losing businesses.
“People made a habit of not going there [during the works] and haven’t returned.
“I’m particularly annoyed a lot of tram stops from Beeston are advertising Clifton as a great place to go and shop but not Chilwell High Road.
“I don’t want to bash the tram, I just think it’s right we see if we’ve got value for money.”
Labour Worksop East councillor Glynn Gilfoyle added: “It’s quite right councillor Jackson is raising ongoing issues that people have suffered.
“But I think there is a point of looking at this and saying: ‘Is it too early to tell to actually get a perspective on the impact [of the tram]’?”
Fellow Labour councillor John Peck said it “should be commended” that 30% of people who travelled by car are now travelling by tram.
“I’ve heard an awful lot of criticism of the tram and not enough in favour of the routes we’ve got now,” he said.
“I think Nottingham City and the Greater Nottingham area is extremely fortunate to have such an outstanding public transport system compared to many other cities in the country.”