In its first year of operation more than 13million passengers used Croydon's trams.

Five years on and the tram link now carries 22million passengers a year. The speed and efficiency of the trams and the fact people can travel to and from Croydon without the hassle of queuing in traffic or finding somewhere to park have added to its popularity.

The scheme has not been without its critics, but enthusiasts believe it has put Croydon firmly on the map, is a boon to business and, ultimately, will reduce the number of cars on the road.

One pro-tram lobby group is campaigning for the system to be extended and hopes to gain public support in its quest to see the light railway expanded into south London.

South London Trams (SLT) believes the extension of the network would bring environmental as well as economic benefits, citing studies showing unemployment in areas served by Tramlink has fallen faster than in those without it.

It also says the tram extensions would provide links to the proposed East London Line Tube extension, hospitals and employment parks.

Currently Tramlink's three routes run through Croydon joining the town to Wimbledon and Beckenham Junction, as well as creating a direct link from New Addington to the town centre.

SLT has been focusing on extensions which would bring the tram to Biggin Hill, Lewisham, Kingston, Sutton, Purley, Coulsdon and Crystal Palace.

The Crystal Palace spur is listed in the mayor of London's £10billion transport strategy which sets out his priorities for the next five years. Transport for London (TfL) is also studying feasibility reports for three other proposed extensions.

Money has been secured by TfL to pay for plans to be drawn up for the Crystal Palace line and to seek planning permission for the scheme, but a spokesman said money was not available to construct the extension. However, TfL said it would be able to apply to the Treasury for further funding in the summer of 2006.

"Croydon's business community has welcomed the prospect of extending the town's trams.

Patricia Cahalane, Croydon Marketing and Development's (CMD) inward investment manager, said: "We think it's an excellent idea.

"The town already has the best connected shopping centres which will be further improved by the extension to Crystal Palace."

She said extending the tram network and the proposed extension of the East London Line, which will bring the Tube to West Croydon, would increase the town's popularity with potential investors.

Ross Feeney, policy advisor for South London Business (SLB), the body responsible for promoting economic development in the south of the capital, said the organisation was lobbying for all four extensions to be built at the same time.

He said: "The tram extensions are extremely important to the continued success of the economy."

A recent survey on SLB's website showed 86 per cent of respondents were in favour of the tram being extended.

Croydon Council's cabinet member for the environment and streets, Councillor Gerry Ryan, said he supported the extension of the trams.

He said: "We are most in favour of this. Both sides of the council would welcome the extension."

He added the tram not only gave the town prestige but was environmentally friendly encouraging people to cut down on car journeys.

When Tramlink was first under construction there were concerns over increases in congestion and the number of trees being cut down to make way for the tracks.

SLT admits there would be further disruption and congestion if the tram network was extended, but once the system was up and running that would be reduced.

A spokesman for SLT said developers were given permission to cut down 2,000 trees when Tramlink was being built but the final number of trees lost was under half that figure.

She said the council also spent £1million on landscaping, meaning there were more trees on the finished route than before work started. Roger Harding, Croydon Tramtrack's general manager, explained an extension to the tram would improve travel for those moving around south London and encourage more investment to Croydon and surrounding areas.

He said: "We think there will be significant benefits to the community.

"There's a lack of an integrated transport strategy in south London and Tramlink offers an excellent opportunity to provide that integrated transport."

TfL are currently looking at the feasibility of these extensions:
l Sutton St Helier Morden Morden Road Wimbledon
l Sutton St Helier Mitcham Tooting
l Purley Central Croydon Thornton Heath Norbury Streatham
l The extensions to Kingston, Biggin Hill and Lewisham are currently not under consideration in TfL's business plan.

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