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IN THE RING: Stockton will bid to become GB Railways HQ

IN THE RING: Stockton will bid to become GB Railways HQ

Stockton South MP Matt Vickers and former cabinet minister turned television presenter Michael Portillo

Stockton will throw its hat in the ring to host the new headquarters of “Great British Railways” following pleas from a Teesside MP.

Council leaders have revealed they would lodge a bid to host the new state-owned rail body – but only once they know what the process is.

Confirmation came after Stockton South MP Matt Vickers pushed for the town to compete given the town’s “proud and rich railway history”.

The planned state-owned body will oversee rail transport from 2023 as a successor to Network Rail.

Councillors debated a motion on the bid last week which pointed to the backing former minister and TV presenter Michael Portillo had given to Stockton.

Conservative group leader Cllr Tony Riordan said: “The Transport Secretary has committed that the national headquarters will be based outside of London, and the competition is set to recognise towns and cities with a rich railway history.

“Stockton’s rich railway history makes it a perfect contender to be the new home of Great British Rail.”

Cllr Jim Beall, cabinet member for culture, leisure and health, said the council would “always support quality jobs” in the borough – but he added the prospectus for the bid hadn’t been published yet.

“Nor is there any indication of when it will be,” he added.

“But (the) council can be assured that, if we fulfil the criteria, we will be certainly submitting a bid in what will likely be a highly competitive field.

“In the meantime, it can do no harm to put a marker down to alert the Transport Secretary – and we can, in that letter, confirm Stockton’s vital contribution to the birth of the passenger railways, and give evidence of our commitment to that heritage.”

The move will come ahead of preparations to mark the bicentenary of the Stockton and Darlington Railways in 2025.

Neighbouring Darlington is also expected to vie for the GB Railways hub after its MP Peter Gibson wrote to the government.

York – the home of the National Railway Museum – is also in the running.

The chamber also heard some discussion of the history of the railways, who built what first, and Stockton’s efforts to mark its locomotive past.

The Conservative motion “regretted” that Stockton’s rich local railway heritage has been “overlooked and neglected”.

Cllr Beall denied this – but conceded Shildon had been selected as a base for the National Railway Museum given it had the buildings and rolling stock left behind by train manufacturing.

He told the chamber Stockton’s flat section didn’t include iconic structures, nor was there a station in the town at the time to use as a base for a museum.

However, he did point to the town’s St John’s crossing sculpture, 1825 Way and the Stockton Flyer, in Stockton High Street, as examples of efforts made to mark its rail history.

Cllr Nigel Cooke, cabinet member for housing and regeneration, said the council had a “record of securing investment”.

He added: “We’ll be putting in for this new headquarters of British rail once we understand what the criteria is.

“It’s difficult to apply for something when you don’t know the mechanism.

“As soon as we find out, we’ll be ready to go.

“Just as we were ready to go on bringing the Treasury jobs to Stockton.”

A Labour amendment, which backed the bid but removed sections on regretting Stockton’s heritage being overlooked, was passed unanimously.

Rants and rust

It wouldn’t have been a Stockton Council meeting without a few barbs being meted out.

Cllr Steve Nelson criticised Mr Vickers for past comments he’d made in Parliament about the council’s spending – as well as his stance on the recent social care bill.

The Labour cabinet member added: “In his detail-free rant in Parliament, Matt also referenced the council wasting £900 on a “rusty metal door”.

“What rusty metal door was that Matt?

“My understanding is that this rusty metal door was commissioned and cut from the bulkhead of a ship.

“It was then placed on the flyer in the High Street designed to allow children to close the mechanism and interact with it.

“We have an MP who feels it appropriate to raise in Parliament the so-called profligacy of spending £900 specifically created to help celebrate the town’s railway heritage – and to encourage the young people of the borough to learn more about it.

“I would therefore send a genuine request to Cllr Riordan and ask if he could speak to the MP for Stockton South to please persuade him to support the efforts of the council to support the town’s rich railway heritage, rather than denigrate it.

“Who knows – by supporting our town’s rich railway heritage, it may even help in efforts to get the GBR headquarters in Stockton.”

In response, Mr Vickers welcomed the council’s commitment to back his campaign.

“It is a shame that it has taken a motion from the Conservative group to force their hand on the matter,” he added.

The Tory MP said he found Cllr Nelson’s remarks “laughable” – labelling it a “party political rant” and “not helpful”.

Mr Vickers said: “If all he can do is to point to a rusty metal door as the council’s legacy in commemorating Stockton’s railway history, then this isn’t something to brag about.

“This pales in comparison to our neighbours in Darlington and Shildon who have taken far more pride in their rail roots.”

He added: “I’m sure the people of Stockton would prefer him to get on with the job he’s been elected to do, rather than score petty political points.

“I think he should follow the mature and constructive examples set by his group leader and deputy leader in getting behind this campaign.

“If only our Labour-led council had done more to celebrate our links to the railway, this competition wouldn’t even be necessary as Stockton is the natural home for Great British Railways.”

 

Words: Alex Metcalfe, Local Democracy Reporter


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