Petition launched over stations 'dropped' from proposed Northumberland to Newcastle line
A petition has been launched over stations that have been ‘dropped’ from the proposed rail line connecting south-east Northumberland and Newcastle.
Labour claims ‘thousands of people will be left behind’ when the passenger services are up and running.
But the Conservative administration at Northumberland County Council says that they look set to deliver on this project within three years, ‘after three decades of Labour failure’.
The new Northumberland Line – formerly dubbed the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne line – could be running by late 2022 and mean journeys between Ashington and Newcastle of just over half-an-hour.
In June, it was agreed that the scheme was to be included in the North East’s £377million bid for funding from the Government’s £1.28billion Transforming Cities Fund (TCF), with £99million earmarked for the rail line.
As previously reported, a phased approach is being proposed, with four new stations at Ashington, Bedlington, Newsham and Northumberland Park (North Tyneside) to be built in the first phase to provide an hourly (high peak half-hourly) service.
The remaining stations at Seaton Delaval and Blyth Bebside would come on line over the following two years, alongside other improvements.
But Labour claims that its first phase would have included all those in the Tories’ plan, with the exception of Northumberland Park, but also Bebside, Seaton Delaval and Woodhorn.
Labour accepts that Bebside and Seaton Delaval are included in the second phase of the current proposals, but point out that this is reliant on additional funding being found, with the overall project estimated to cost £190million.
Coun Scott Dickinson, deputy leader of the Labour group, said: “The Ashington Blyth and Tyne Line was launched under Labour. We feel passionately about making sure everyone in south-east Northumberland has access to it and reaps the benefits it would bring.
“The station snubs at Woodhorn in Ashington, Bebside in Blyth and Seaton Delaval smack of hypocrisy given the Tories’ so-called commitment to tackling climate change. By scrapping three stations, they are depriving thousands of people in Northumberland access to efficient public transport.
“People in south-east Northumberland are used to being short-changed by the Tories, they took our industry and with it, secure work for generations of people in our county.
“It’s time for the Tories to break that cycle and commit to giving people a train line that can really deliver for everyone in south-east Northumberland.”
But Coun Richard Wearmouth, the Conservative cabinet member for economic regeneration, said: “The funding is such that it has to be spent in a time-frame that our engineers feel wouldn’t allow for stations at Bebside or Seaton Valley.
“There is a commitment to step into phase two immediately after the first phase is complete and that would include stations in these locations.
“Labour must be panicking in advance of a General Election, but the choice is clear, it is our phased approach or no funding.
“After three decades of Labour failure, the Conservatives look set to return passenger services to the Northumberland line within three years.
“That’s why more and more people are telling us they are voting Conservative in Wansbeck and Blyth Valley.”
In February, the then Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said he was very much in support of the project as he visited the county to take a ride along part of the route.
His visit came as councillors signed off on approximately £3.46million of spending to develop the next steps, with the aim of submitting an outline business case and proposal for the detailed design by the end of the year.
A screening opinion, in order to check if a full environmental impact assessment (EIA) is required and which precedes planning applications, was lodged with Northumberland County Council as well as North Tyneside Council in July.
The design uses, with the exception of a four-mile length of the East Coast Main Line, the existing freight-only line, which last carried passengers in 1964.
The petition can be found at https://www.labournorth.com/dont-scrap-our-stations/