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TRANSPORT OVERHAUL: North East wishlist now at £7 billion

TRANSPORT OVERHAUL: North East wishlist now at £7 billion

Image: LDRS

A colossal overhaul of the North East’s transport networks will now cost almost £7 billion – but would only be our “fair slice of the cake”, local leaders say.

Final proposals for a complete transformation of road, rail, bus, walking, and cycling infrastructure across the area by 2035 have been published and are now set to be signed off by council bosses next week.

The 243 projects included in the finalised North East Transport Plan amount to at least £6.8 billion of investment and include new Metro lines, bridges, bus and train stations, and environmentally-friendly upgrades across Newcastle, Gateshead, Northumberland, North Tyneside, South Tyneside, Sunderland, and County Durham.

However, hopes of delivering the ambitious strategy will be massively dependent on whether the government is willing to commit to funding the wishlist.

Ahead of the plan being officially adopted by the North East Joint Transport Committee (JTC) next week, Gateshead Council leader Martin Gannon said the region was not making “outrageous” demands by asking for the full £6.8 billion from ministers.

Coun Gannon, who chairs the JTC, said:  “Let’s put this in perspective, the North East has historically suffered under-investment in transport infrastructure.

“It has gone on for decades, so it is not unreasonable for us to put forward a plan that is costed out at nearly £7 billion now – that is what we need to have a strong, vibrant economy and to tackle the real issues of climate change and air quality.

“We are asking the government to give us an unfair or disproportionate share of the resources.

“If we were funded in exactly the same way as other parts of the country we would be able to deliver on this scheme and massively improve the social and economic prospects of our region.

“So I don’t think it is unreasonable, I don’t think we are stark raving mad, I don’t think we are making outrageous demands. All we are asking for is a fair slice of the cake.”

Analysis by IPPR North suggests that in 2019, planned government spending on transport in London was £3,636 per person – seven times more than the £519 per head in the North East.

Coun Gannon added that he has a “reasonable expectation” that a good chunk of the proposals can be delivered – but that the biggest will require a serious commitment from the government to get off the ground, such as the reopening of the Leamside railway line that would bring new rail services to Washington and County Durham.

Also included in the plan is the creation of a single-ticket payment system that would connect all public transport in the North East – despite such proposals being dealt a severe blow by a £105 million government funding cut to Transport for the North in January.

There are now only 243 schemes listed in the plan compared to an original 296 when the draft version was published in November, despite the overall cost increasing from £6.1 billion to £6.8 billion, with many merged into more general headings.

For example, the final plan has removed specific references to proposed new Metro stations at locations such as Ouseburn, Boldon, and Mill Lane in Hebburn, and also omits an explicit extension of mainline railway services to Newcastle Airport.

Ideas which are included in the plan and could commence at short notice with the right funding include:

  • A £40 million renovation of the Tyne Bridge and Central Motorway;
  • New ‘Bus, Cycles & Electric Vehicles only’ lanes across Wearside;
  • Reducing the region’s potholes backlog;
  • Addressing the “disrepair” in the North East’s electric car charging infrastructure.

Projects earmarked for delivery in the next five years include:

  • A footbridge between the Stadium of Light and the old Vaux Brewery site in Sunderland.
  • Regenerations of Wallsend, Whitley Bay, and North Shields to improve accessibility;
  • Reopening the Newcastle to Northumberland railway line, connecting the city centre to Ashington and Blyth for passenger services;
  • Dualling the A1 to Ellingham and boosting the capacity of the A19 in North Tyneside, Sunderland and County Durham;
  • Major road network schemes including Blyth Relief Road and Sunderland Strategic Transport Corridors delivered in 2024/25.

Within ten years, it is hoped that there will also be progress on:

  • New Metro stations, including the Murton Gap in North Tyneside;
  • First trains run on rail line extensions by 2029, including via a reopened Leamside line to the International Advanced Manufacturing Park;
  • Future extensions of the Northumberland Line;
  • Dualling the A1 all the way to the Scottish border and dualling the A66;
  • Addressing congestion and improving active travel routes to Newbiggin, Ashington, Morpeth, and Cramlington;
  • New bus stations in Alnwick and Blyth, plus refurbishments of the Gateshead and Heworth interchanges;

And the wish list for beyond the next 10 years includes:

  • Investigating a new ‘Strategic River Crossing’, previously listed as a new road bridge over the Tyne at Blaydon;
  • A new Metro line through Cobalt and the Silverlink in North Tyneside and reopening the remainder of the Leamside line;
  • A new public transport link in the west of Newcastle and a rail link to Consett.

Jamie Driscoll, the North of Tyne mayor, said: “Good transport means reliable journeys, less stress and healthier living. It means spending your time productively or at leisure, not stuck in traffic.

“We had a glimpse during the first lockdown of what life is like without traffic. We need to make public transport as fast and convenient as car ownership.

“We need to make cycling and walking safer and easier with dedicated routes and secure bike parking. I want a transport system so good, that people choose to give up owning a car.

“It’s an ambitious plan – and at the same time it’s essential that we deliver it. Announcements alone about a green economy won’t cut it. Let’s get it done.”

Words: Daniel Holland, Local Democracy Reporter


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