South Tyneside Council has been investigating the viability of a bridge scheme in response to plans from Network Rail to install full barriers at Tile Shed Lane and Boldon Lane level crossings in East Boldon.
The existing half barriers are scheduled for complete renewal to improve safety but as full barriers take longer to operate, council bosses say this could create congestion problems, especially at peak times.
After considering options, the council concluded that a ‘bridge option’ was the best alternative and started to carry out feasibility works – with the road infrastructure project aiming to allow travel over the rail line while replacing the existing level crossings.
Impacts on the environment and local wildlife were a major concern, alongside fears the scheme was linked to future housing sites and questions about the timings of a full barrier system at the rail crossing points.
On Wednesday, March 17, South Tyneside Council’s ruling cabinet agreed to pause the feasibility works and put the project on hold until further notice.
One reason behind the move included the difficulties of gathering accurate data due to the long-term impact of Covid-19 on traffic levels.
Council chiefs added that an environmental impact assessment for the bridge option could only be produced formally if the council decided to progress the project to the detailed design stages.
Councillor Mark Walsh, cabinet member for housing and transport, introduced a report on the scheme to cabinet with a recommendation to pause the project.
He explained that all detailed design activity and environmental impact assessment processes for the bridge option would be “paused indefinitely until and if, the verified data and evidence comes forward which allows the council to make a full and informed decision at a point in the future.”
Cllr Walsh went on to say: “I must point out that in recommending this option, the council will still need to address issues at the crossing points in future.
“This will be particularly so when the full barriers are installed and it does not rule out the option of a road-over-rail bridge at some point in the future.”
The proposed road over rail bridge was mooted as one element of an overall Transforming Cities Fund ‘transport corridor’ scheme – which includes seven other key junction improvements on a route linking Boldon to Whiteleas and on to South Shields town centre.
Following the cabinet decision, the road bridge will not be included in the current Transforming Cities business case and funding for that particular element will be lost.
However, a report to cabinet added that officers will work with the regional transport team to explore “any potential opportunity to redirect some of that investment elsewhere within the overall South Shields to Newcastle corridor. “
Network Rail will also be informed of the council’s decision to pause the bridge project, to allow them to continue with detailed designs and to programme the works for the full barrier system implementation from 2024 onwards.
Councillor Joan Atkinson, deputy leader of the council and ward representative for Cleadon and East Boldon, said it was important to have verified data to inform any future decision.
She added: “Environmental concerns were, for the residents that I represent, of major importance.
“For me, the data and evidence has to be up to date and verified if this comes back at all.
“I believe the case was not made initially but accepting that, if we have up to date verified data and evidence, that a case will then have to come out again and residents will take cognisance of that.”
A report prepared for cabinet confirmed that “further public consultation would also inform any future decision.”
For more information on the scheme, visit:www.southtyneside.gov.uk/article/70886/Boldon-and-Tilesheds-level-crossings-BTLC-