Bosses accused of ‘fluffy’ case for Northumberland Rail Line project

A major North East land owner and leisure operator has accused Northumberland County Council of a "fluffy" economic case for the Northumberland Line rail project.

Friday, 19th November 2021, 10:50 am
Updated Friday, 19th November 2021, 11:05 am
Northumberland County Council has been accused of having a "fluffy" economic case for the proposed Northumberland Line.

Malhotra Commercial Property has insisted it “generally welcomes” the return of passenger services to what was once known as the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne Line.

But the organisation, which also runs a range of restaurants, bars and hotels, is fighting proposals to force it to sell land it has earmarked for a care home, to make way for a car park serving a planned new station in Ashington.

“I can’t see from the evidence produced how you can balance the comparable benefits and burdens of requiring a station car park,” said David Cooper, a solicitor representing the firm.

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“Compare that with the provision of a care home and the benefits my client will provide for this community.

“Just an assertion that a 35-minute journey from Ashington to Newcastle could open up employment, education and leisure opportunities for people who would not otherwise have them, I would say is a fluffy approach.”

Mr Cooper was speaking at a public inquiry on an application for a Transport and Works Act Order (TWAO) needed for work on the railway plans.

The TWAO’s role in the infrastructure project has been described as “essential but limited” by brains behind the scheme at Northumberland County Council (NCC).

If granted, this would include permission to seek a compulsory purchase order (CPO) for the site at Kenilworth Road, in Ashington.

Mr Cooper claimed a decision on planning permission for his client’s proposed care home, submitted almost a year ago, had been delayed for “spurious reasons” and was still yet to be ruled on.

He also questioned whether the car park plans could be squared with policies intended to encourage the use of public transport.

Stuart McNaughton, NCC’s strategic transport manager, told the hearing the county had “systems in place to encourage people to walk and cycle”.

Opening the inquiry, Richard Turney, representing the county council, said the Northumberland Line was needed to change the “status quo” in the region.

He added: “If nothing is done, either a heavy price is paid for continued economic growth, in terms of congestion and impacts on matters such as air quality, or economic growth is inhibited.”