Conservatives dispute Labour claims over Blyth Relief Road funding

Northumberland County Council’s Conservative administration have refuted Labour’s claims it had plans and funding in place for the Blyth Relief Road.

By James Robinson
Wednesday, 27th April 2022, 10:01 am
The options for the Blyth Relief Road.

The Tories recently claimed they were ending “decades of failure” by Labour in Northumberland after the council’s cabinet agreed plans for a consultation on a new planned route for the road after the previously selected one became unviable due to a housing development.

Labour leader Scott Dickinson hit back and claimed a feasibility study was carried and a route identified back in 2017, with the money allocated for the project within the council’s budget.

He also said the Conservatives had halted the project and ‘dithered and delayed’ meaning it would now be at least 2026 before the long-awaited road, which is designed to ease pressure on the heavily congested routes in and out of Blyth, is finally completed.

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But the Conservatives have now disputed those claims and said Labour had never identified any funding for the project, and that the administration had never put a halt to any plans.

A spokesman for the party said: “It seems Labour leader Scott Dickinson got a bit confused the other week implying there was money in the last Labour budget in 2017 for a Blyth Relief Road.

“Sadly for Coun Dickinson, the Labour budget did include £450m of taxpayer money for Arch to buy more ‘stuff’ like Manor Walks Shopping Centre; millions to move County Hall to Ashington, creating zero jobs; £4.5m for an Elves Playground; £40m for the hugely unpopular Dissington Garden Village – but there was no money for a Blyth Relief Road.

“Thankfully the Conservatives replaced Labour in 2017 and in the time since, we have brought forward plans for the relief road and backed it with council funding. We have also brought £70m of funding to Blyth in the form of a Future Highstreet Fund and a Town Deal; helped attract Britishvolt and JDR cables to the Blyth Estuary, creating thousands of jobs; and achieved funding for the Northumberland Rail Line amongst a host of other transformational projects.

“It all goes to show the progress we are making under a Conservative-run council.”

While the 2017 budget documents do not specifically allocate funding for the project, a funding bid submitted to the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) in 2016 said the council had “invested significantly” in the scheme to that point, with further funding pledged as part of the bid.

Responding to the Conservative criticism, a Labour spokesman said: “It’s clear the Conservatives are in complete disarray and confusion themselves. They quote expenditure which only in 2020 they were championing such as Manor Walks outperforming similar sites and making money.

“They talk about tourist attractions such as the recently announced investment in Alnwick or “Elf Village” as they call it, which is now getting free public grant money. So tourism won, jobs won and the people won.

“The truth of the matter is the documentation shows, that Labour worked hard to deliver the Blyth Relief road with the Council and a range of regional partners such as the LEP and others, submitted business cases and submissions of interest and since 2016 the documentation shows nothing has been done. All of that is allocated in the main budget to start the feasibility studies.

“They can talk about British Volt or anything else that has nothing to do with them, if that makes them feel better about slashing millions from people’s frontline services and raising council taxes while places like Blyth, Ashington and Bedlington are left with holes, unfinished work, and no action since 2017.

“They may well continue to talk over and over about promises and delivery but what we need is real action without dither and delay.”