New £4billion devolution deal 'crucial' to Leamside Line reopening hopes
The major agreement between seven councils and the Government is set to bring a raft of new money and decision-making powers to the region, with a new North East mayor due to be elected in 2024.
And local leaders hope that striking the deal might also be a key step towards achieving one of the region’s biggest and most expensive ambitions – the restoration of the mothballed Leamside Line.
The reopening of the route, between Pelaw in Gateshead and Tursdale in County Durham, would drastically improve connections in parts of the North East cut off from rail travel and allow for a £745million extension of the Tyne and Wear Metro through Washington, and boost transport links in South Tyneside.
While the devolution deal does not secure the vast funding that would be needed to deliver the huge scheme, it does commit the Government in writing to work with the region to push forward plans for the Leamside Line – including the proposed Washington Metro loop, the reintroduction of local rail services to Ferryhill and Sedgefield, and the use of the line by freight trains to free up extra space on the congested East Coast Main Line.
Gateshead Council leader Martin Gannon, chair of the North East Joint Transport Committee, said: “This is a positive development for this strategically vital infrastructure project. The Leamside Line is a win not just for the North East but also for the UK as a whole.
“We have recently produced a compelling high-level business case which highlights the benefits of the Washington Metro Loop. It shows that the extension would be game-changing for the region and would generate an additional £90million per year to the local economy while at the same time reducing carbon emissions by nearly 87,000 tonnes a year by replacing 1.7million car journeys.
“This will help us to achieve our social-economic goals as outlined in the region’s Transport Plan – providing appealing sustainable transport options for our local people and communities which improve our environment and boost our economy.
"Our proposal to reopen the Leamside Line has very strong support from cross-party MPs, leaders and mayors and indeed businesses given the significant connectivity and accessibility benefits that delivery would bring to residents and businesses.
“We now need to take development of the business case to a much more detailed level and I look forward to working with the Government on this, as one of its commitments in the devolution deal.”
Politicians and transport officials in the North East have been pushing for years to get the Leamside Line reopened and feared the worst when it was cut out of the Government’s pledge to deliver only a “core” of the long-awaited Northern Powerhouse Rail project last November.
But the text of the devolution deal promises that the Government will work with the future mayor and Metro operator Nexus to “generate proposals, develop business cases and identify funding routes” for the Leamside upgrades – albeit with the caveat they they must “deliver appropriate value for money to the taxpayer” and be subject to funding availability.
Once approved by local councils and then Parliament, the devolution deal would establish a new North East Mayoral Combined Authority covering Newcastle, Gateshead, North Tyneside, South Tyneside, Sunderland, Northumberland and County Durham.