Authorities must close a huge funding gap before progress on the multi-million pound Merton-Sutton tram extension project can go ahead, a council meeting heard.

Cllr Manuel Abellan, chair of Sutton Council’s environment and neighbourhood committee, said it’s “something that we need to resolve before we can progress”.

He made the admission as he was quizzed by the scrutiny committee inside a packed meeting room yesterday evening (February 6).

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Cllr Abellan said: “The next step is bridging the funding gap which is, at the moment, the main issue. There would be an application for what they call a transport and works act order (TWA) and that would be in 2020.

“Once that happens then there would be a public inquiry, it would go to the Secretary of State for a decision, possibly construction if it all goes smoothly in 2022, and operations starting in 2025.

“We do have a big funding gap. It's something that we need to resolve before we can progress.”

The aim is to extend the existing tram network from Merton into the borough, but authorities are currently consulting on how that should be implemented.

Among the questions being posed is whether it should operate by bus rapid transit (BRT) or tram, and where in Merton it would arrive from.

But it would be at least several years before it would be launched.

It comes as Transport for London (TfL) insisted the Sutton Link is among its top priorities among a range of major works across the capital.

However, fears have been raised they might be derailed due to the authority’s huge operating deficit – said to be nearing £1 billion.

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Cllr Abellan added: “The next few steps are some feasibility works, in terms of where the exact routes, are being carried out at the moment. Some of the potential pinch points around in Angel Hill, Rose Hill, and so on, we're looking at that in a bit more depth.

“I think TfL committed £9 million for those works.”

The latest public consultation finished early last month, and TfL are expected to release the results in a report this coming spring.