Copper were pleased to attend the North East APPG’s meeting on the 5 December titled ‘Connecting the North East: Why transport is the key to unlocking growth’.
This was the first meeting in their manifesto series, launched in the run-up to the General Election. The APPG will be publishing this manifesto with the intention of outlining a cross-party vision for the region. The feeling in the room, shared by the panel members, was that the North East has been left behind, especially when considering transport investment. The group argued that should the North East receive a higher proportion of investment than it usually receives it would unlock a wealth of opportunity and growth.
Kate Osborne MP chaired the meeting and opened by asking the meeting’s key question ‘What does the North East need to deliver a world-class transport system to boost growth, access to jobs and allow the region to reach its full potential’? She also outlined her experience of working for and with constituents, in which time and time again the feedback she received is that transport connectivity is a key constraint to unlocking opportunity for local people. The chair outlined that the APPG is designed to build consensus, call for measures to unlock economic growth for the region, and evaluate and understand what Network North truly means for the North East.
The Role of Transport for the North
Lord Patrick McLoughlin, Chair of Transport for the North, was the first member of the panel to contribute. He outlined some of the challenges he faced during his tenure as Secretary of State for Transport from 2012-2016. During this time, he oversaw the £750m regeneration of Paddington station and explained that one of the key challenges with justifying transport infrastructure funding isn’t always about how local commitments or improvements can be made. He argued that funding and developing infrastructure not in the immediate geography of a region can directly benefit that region by relieving capacity on the railway, making journey times more reliable and services more frequent. Transport infrastructure is a key driver for wider economic growth across the geography of the United Kingdom.
Lord McLoughlin reiterated Transport for North’s role as part of the APPG to support and provide research on how transport can serve the whole geography of the North East. He outlined how the reopening of the Leamside Line could bring about improved transport connectivity and unlock growth and opportunity for the region, citing the Chase Line in the West Midlands as a similar, existing example.
Julia Prescott, Deputy Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission and Deputy Chair of the Port of Tyne spoke next, where she outlined some of the key infrastructure focuses for the North East such as the North East Investment Zone, Green Energy Port, Dogger Bank, and improvements to the A690, A1 and A19. According to Julia, an essential factor in unlocking further investment to infrastructure in the region is devolution and the newly elected North East Mayoral Combined Authority in May 2024.
Mark Morris from Campaign for Better Transport spoke to the importance of bus services to the region. Highlighting some of their recent research, Mr Morris described ‘transport deserts’ in the North East, in which several towns across the region are facing several negative consequences as a result of poor transport connectivity.
The transformative potential of the Leamside Line
We then heard from Sharon Hodgson MP, a key proponent of the Leamside Line. Sharon briefly explained what the Leamside Line is. The Leamside line is a 21 mile disused railway running from Gateshead in Tyne & Wear heading south to Ferryhill in County Durham. It was one of many passenger railways that were removed from service as part of the Beeching Cuts in the 1960s. Reopening the line would see parts of the North East connected to the Tyne & Wear Metro for the very first time as well as unlocking growth and opportunities for the several towns along the 21 mile railway. Perhaps, and most importantly, the Leamside Line connects to the East Coast Main Line and would serve as a much needed capacity enhancement, and would enable connections to the rest of the region as well as provide local people with tangible routes and journeys to several major local employers.
Lastly, we heard from Heather Jones who described some of the work that Transport North East do to serve the region. They are currently researching for a plan that will eventually be announced by the newly elected North East Combined Mayoral Authority Mayor. The plan will outline what they believe to be the key focuses for transport infrastructure in the region and build the case for long-term devolved funding to the region.
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