Emma Lewell-Buck: Why are new Metro trains not being built in the North East?
From the minute I entered Parliament I campaigned for investment in our Metro, because for our regional economy to do well we need a transport system that is up to the job.
I have always and still do use the Metro, so I know that when it works it works well and that the staff at the stations do an excellent job but time and time again the service has been beset by delayed and cancelled trains making people late for work and important appointments.
The overriding reason for this was the Metro trains have long passed their shelf life as they were due to retire from service in 2010 after 40 years of being in use.
After I and other Tyne and Wear MPs exerted pressure on the Government, we were really pleased when in 2017 the then Chancellor announced in the Budget over £300million to fund these 42 new trains. Although the trains won’t be in service until 2022, it felt like at last we were getting somewhere.
Once the tender process was opened, local firm Hitachi rail based in Newton Aycliffe were shortlisted in that process but just this week it has been announced that Swiss manufacturing firm Stadler has instead been awarded the contract.
I appreciate that there needs to be value for money in all contracts awarded, and I have yet to see the evidence Hitachi weren’t offering that. However, there is also a bigger picture here.
Our local economy will thrive and prosper if people are in employment, it will thrive and prosper if we can show the world what skilled, hardworking people we have here in the North East, that in turn brings more investment and more jobs. Already this month Hitachi confirmed 250 redundancies if demand for their trains didn’t increase.
Of course, the involvement of thirty plus companies in the wider supply chain and the new maintenance facility in South Gosforth are welcome but nowhere near as welcome as the contract to build the new fleet would have been.
The Tees Valley Tory Mayor is trying to make political capital out of this, but he is being disingenuous as the decision was not made by the combined authority made up of local councils but by Nexus. Additionally, it is the Tories who have failed to invest in transport in our region for the last 10 years. It can never be acceptable that seven times more is spent on transport in London than in the North East or that they have accepted procurement rules that don’t put UK manufacturing first. It is the Tories who don’t have an industrial strategy that works for all the regions of the UK.
I have requested an urgent meeting with Nexus this week to discuss why it is they made the decision to not build trains for the North East in the North East.