Sunderland and South Tyneside MPs call on Chancellor to step in and save the Metro from Covid-19 loses of almost £1m a week
Sunderland and South Tyneside MPs have urged the Chancellor to urgently commit to saving the Tyne and Wear Metro from the “devastating” impact of the coronavirus crisis.
Local transport bosses say they are in need of a £10 million government bailout to keep the network running just until July, with the Metro losing almost £1 million a week due to a massive drop in passenger numbers during lockdown.
There have been repeated calls over the last month for ministers to come up with a rescue package like those offered to private rail and bus firms but no support has yet been confirmed, though it is now understood that a deal could be close.
After warnings from Gateshead Council leader Martin Gannon that mothballing the Metro because of the cash shortage would send the region “back to the ice age”, ten Tyne and Wear MPs have urged Rishi Sunak to commit “wholehearted support to a financial package for light rail systems like the Tyne and Wear Metro”.
In a letter to the Treasury, they said: “The Tyne and Wear Metro plays a central role in our regional economy and will be vital to ensure we can recover when the present situation has abated, and restrictions are lifted. A failure to act now could lead to long term service reductions and job losses which would be devastating for our region’s transport system and the people, businesses, and communities who rely on it.
“We also support the comments made by the North East Chamber of Commerce, in a letter to the Transport Secretary earlier this week, which stressed that the ‘long-term role of Metro as an economic asset for our region must not be undermined by this crisis’.
“This is a challenge faced by light rail systems across our country. We urge you to ensure the Treasury is alert to the urgency of the issue and provides the financial support necessary to help our nation’s transport system through this crisis and that it is primed for driving our recovery.”
The letter was signed by MPs Sharon Hodgson, Julie Elliott, Emma Lewell-Buck, Kate Osborne, Nick Brown, Ian Mearns, Sir Alan Campbell, Liz Twist, Mary Glindon, and Catherine McKinnell.
The group also condemned suggestions that some Metro staff could be furloughed, saying such a move would “not be conducive to the continuation of vital services for essential workers and the maintenance of safety standards”.
In a letter sent to Newcastle North MP Catherine McKinnell on Monday, transport secretary Grant Shapps said: “The government understands the importance of the Metro network for the Tyne and Wear region and its role in transporting critical workers.
“We are considering light rail across all of the systems that fall within England, outside London, and as a matter of urgency I have asked officials to work up further details of the impact of the revenue shortfall as a result of the coronavirus.”