This week, North East MPs clashed with the Secretary of State for Transport in the House of Commons after a commitment to reopen the mothballed Leamside Line between County Durham and Gateshead, as part of the government’s Network North proposals, were watered down in just 24 hours.
The government was accused of treating the North East with total contempt when a line committing the government to reopening the route with cost savings from the scrapping of HS2, was removed just 24 hours later.
Question from Mary Kelly Foy
Reacting to the U- turn, Mary Kelly Foy, Member of Parliament for the City of Durham, asked the Secretary of State for Transport Mark Harper:
“No matter how much the Secretary of State tries to back-pedal, the fact is that the proposal to reopen the Leamside line was scrapped just 24 hours after it was announced, and businesses and communities in the north-east rightly feel betrayed.
“Who was it who decided that they would water down the proposal? Who decided that the Leamside line was far too north to be worthy of government investment? Was it the Prime Minister, the Treasury or the Minister who sold out the North East?”
Despite evidence to the contrary, the Secretary of State attempted to brush off suggestions the government’s commitment had been watered down at all, stating:
“I am not quite sure why the Hon. Lady does not think that an extra £685 million for transport in the North East, adding up to £1.8 billion of investment, and the fact that we have started work with officials in that area on that project should not be welcomed. I think it should be welcomed, and I am sure that she and other colleagues who support it will continue working with us on making sure that it gets delivered.”
Reopening the Leamside Line to local rail, metro, and freight services has been described as “Leamside Line is the most important piece of infrastructure for the economic future of the North East”, and has the backing of North East political and business leaders. With Labour candidate for the North East Mayoralty, Kim McGuinness, pledging to reopen the line if elected.
Reacting to the Minister’s statement Mary Kelly Foy MP said:
“It’s an absolute farce that ministers are attempting to pull the wool over people in the North East’s eyes. No matter how they try to spin it, a commitment to reopen the Leamside Line was published only for it to be removed.
“It is no wonder people in the North East no longer feel they can trust a single word that comes from the Government.”
Sharon Hodgson, MP for Washington and Sunderland West, also grilled the minister as to why they were U-turning on reopening the Leamside Line.
Comments from regional stakeholders in reaction to the government’s Leamside Line U-turn
Henri Murison, the Chief Executive of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, said:
“If this is what they have done and they have gone back on their word, how can we believe anything else that they have said in the last week? How can the prime minister have any credibility on the commitments he has made?
“If they don’t honour their commitments made on this it would be significant evidence of a betrayal of the North of England.”
Martin Gannon,North East Joint Transport Committee chair, said:
“The North East (sic) needs to see a reversal of a long history of under investment in transport for the benefit of generations to come. This must include a commitment to fund the reopening of the Leamside Line not yet another broken promise.”
John McCabe, chief executive, North East Chamber of Commerce, said:
“The government ran down the clock on HS2 over a number of years and it seems to have taken them just a matter of hours to do the same on the Leamside Line. Big, bold announcements made at party conferences are utterly meaningless if they aren’t backed up by fast action. The case for the Leamside Line is well known and has been strengthened by having cross-party support in the North East. I hope those who have long advocated for the Leamside Line will join us in continuing to do so until this essential piece of infrastructure is finally delivered.”
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