North East Devolution and Levelling Up
Penshaw Monument

Leamside Line – what’s going on?

The chair of the North East Joint Transport Committee (JTC), Councillor Martin Gannon, has accused Chancellor Jeremy Hunt of cutting the region out of critical rail improvements in yesterday’s Autumn Statement. The North East has cut itself out, more like.

Politicians in the region have been campaigning for years for the reopening of the Leamside Line from Pelaw in Gateshead to Tursdale near Ferryhill in County Durham.

The line would have numerous benefits: it would provide rail services to the former Durham coalfield; relieve pressure on the East Coast Mail Line; create a Metro link between Pelaw and South Hylton though Washington, with three new stations; and enable a possible new line between Tyne, Wear and Tees in conjunction with the Stillington Line. It has the support of this website.

The Leamside Line is part of Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR), the main element of which is the cross-Pennine link between Manchester and Leeds. There were fears that NPR would be scrapped in the Autumn Statement but these were allayed when Mr Hunt stood up in the Commons.

A close reading of the Statement, however, immediately led this website to notice that the government commitment was only to ‘core’ NPR. This caused both this site, as reported here yesterday, and a little later Councillor Gannon as reported by the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) in ChonicleLive, to question whether the Leamside Line is covered by the commitment.

This is where this site and Councillor Gannon part company however. Councillor Gannon reverted to his usual role as perhaps the leading regional example of what Margaret Thatcher once famously called ‘moaning minnies’.

‘The Chancellor has today referred to moving ahead with a new concept of a “core” Northern Powerhouse Rail,’ Councillor Gannon told the LDRS. ‘I do not know what that means but I am not holding my breath – I fear that the government may have cut the North East out of this transformational scheme once again.’

This site, however, wants a solution and there appears to be one available in the form of the City Region Sustainable Transport Settlement (CRSTS), to which we have been drawing attention  for at least a year

The £5.7bn CRSTS, says the government, will be delivered through multi-year, consolidated transport settlements agreed with central government and based on plans put forward by city regions. Tees Valley is among eight other regions that are already enjoying the benefits.

The trouble is, to access the Settlement city regions must have ‘appropriate governance arrangements’ in place – i.e. a devolution deal – and the North East still hasn’t.

Meanwhile, Councillor Gannon’s JTC, meeting on Tuesday, shuffled the job of finding the funding needed for the Leamside Line on to regional transport officials and the government. This is a shameful abrogation of what is a political responsibility.

According to the official decision notice, the JTC: ‘Authorised Transport North East to work with the government and other relevant bodies to identify sources of funding for both the OBC (outline business case) and for the full scheme’. This site is not holding its breath either until a North East devolution deal is signed, sealed and delivered.