Writing here yesterday, I said that Network North, the government’s new transport plan for the region, was “not a bad outcome.” I know now that in spite of all previous evidence, I underestimated this government’s capacity to break promises, for which I apologise.
Network North is the new plan to spend the £36bn saved from scrapping the long-promised high-speed rail line (HS2) between Birmingham and Manchester.
It includes a number of commitments, large and small, to the North East including the long-awaited and oft-promised dualling of the A1 between Morpeth and Ellingham and a new railway station at Ferryhill in County Durham.
Ferryhill is the proposed terminus for the Leamside Line which, if re-opened, would link parts of County Durham to the Metro at Pelaw and create a Metro loop through Washington. It could also be the northern end of a passenger line, the Stillington Line, linking with Stockton.
A commitment to re-opening the Leamside Line was, according to regional media today, included in an early bullet-point list of schemes, now removed from the government website, to be included in Network North. I relied instead on the full plan which stated, and still states:
“We will reconnect communities by reopening closed Beeching lines. We will restore the Don Valley Line between Sheffield and Stocksbridge, as well as building new stations at Haxby on the York to Scarborough line; Waverley on the Sheffield to Gainsborough line; and Ferryhill in County Durham.”
It is noticeable in Network North that the commitment to build a new station at Ferryhill is not coupled with a correspondingly firm promise to provide a line to serve it, which was why I wrote only that the new station “suggested” the re-opening of Leamside and that the reopening of Beeching lines in places like County Durham “presumably” meant, the Leamside Line.
Roads Minister and North West Durham MP Richard Holden has now told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) reporting in ChronicleLive that the government is “committed to looking into” the Leamside Line project. He said: “We want to work with local partners to consider the different uses for the route and what their priorities would be for transport in the area.”
Paul Howell, Conservative MP for Sedgefield, said he still expected Leamside to go ahead. Howell and Holden both suggested to the LDRS the line would or could be paid for using a £1.8bn City Region Sustainable Transport Settlement (CRSTS) funding allocation heading for the North East under its devolution deal.
The trouble with this is it means the government is committed in Network North to building a new station at Ferryhill while relying on councillors to spend a very large part indeed of their total new transport funding on this single project. The Metro loop through Washington alone has reportedly been costed at £745mn. If they don’t agree County Durham could be left with a new white elephant station without any trains. Talk about not thinking things through.
Yesterday I gave the government the benefit of the doubt. How wrong I was, and how right more sceptical North East politicians were. The campaign for the Leamside Line will have to go on. Let us only hope that it will not take as long as the dualling of the A1 north of Morpeth, the promise of which we now see clearly may once again not be worth the paper it is written on.
The government is making up policy on the Leamside Line as it goes along. Its list of projects to receive investment following the scrapping of HS2 now includes the following: The North East will receive around £1.2bn from the City Regional Sustainable Transport Settlement (CRSTS) 2 budget, plus a further £0.7bn on top – funded from HS2. That is more than triple their allocation under CRSTS 1 (c £1.8bn vs. c.£0.6bn). This money could part fund the reopening of the Leamside Line