Labour and Conservative mayoral candidates at loggerheads over Northumberland Line delays

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A row has erupted between the Labour and Conservative candidates for the North East mayoral elections over delays to the Northumberland Line.

Labour’s Kim McGuinness, currently Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner, said Tory candidate, Cllr Guy Renner-Thompson, “must” reveal the costs of the railway setback.

It comes after Northumberland County Council admitted that the Bedlington, Blyth Bebside and Northumberland Park stations on the £166 million line were unlikely to open until 2025.

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Cllr Renner-Thompson, Northumberland County Council’s cabinet member for education, said refused to take “lectures” from “hapless” Labour politicians.

Cllr Guy Renner-Thompson and Blyth Valley MP Ian Levy at the under-construction Seaton Delaval station. (Photo by Guy Renner-Thompson)Cllr Guy Renner-Thompson and Blyth Valley MP Ian Levy at the under-construction Seaton Delaval station. (Photo by Guy Renner-Thompson)
Cllr Guy Renner-Thompson and Blyth Valley MP Ian Levy at the under-construction Seaton Delaval station. (Photo by Guy Renner-Thompson)

Ms McGuinness said: “When Guy announced he would be standing as mayor, he gave an interview asking why Durham needed more than £1bn for a new railway, insisting train lines are just ‘some metal rails on some gravel’.

"Then it emerged his county council, in which he is a senior cabinet member, has admitted the multi-million pound Northumberland Line railway project is massively delayed.

“Guy is clearly not a transport expert, but he needs to tell us what the cost over-spend is as a result of the council delays.

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"He is a cabinet member. He must surely be asking these questions at County Hall.

“If Guy wants to be mayor he needs to get on the phone to his Tory mates in government and demand we get the money to both reopen the railway line in Durham and ensure all of Northumberland’s promised new stations are opened on day one.”

Labour MP for Wansbeck Ian Lavery said: “We have politicians going round pretending like they have delivered something when in reality we only have half a railway.

"People need to be honest about what caused these delays, how much they have cost, and when we will final get our completed railway.”

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The Northumberland Line delays have been blamed on “incredible engineering challenges” faced by the construction team.

Northumberland County Council said it will not have a final cost figure until the project is complete.

Responding to his Labour opponents, Cllr Renner-Thompson said: “I will take no lectures from hapless Labour hopefuls about the Northumberland Line which will open later this year thanks only to a Conservative government and Conservative council working together.

"The project, like any major infrastructure project, is liable to have complications such as ground conditions, especially given the mining heritage of the south east.

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“Three stations will be open by the summer and three will open next year. Labour have been talking for decades about opening this line with no action.

“Now that the Conservatives are actually making it happen all they can do is talk it down and try to find faults in what will be a transformative project for our region.

"I am in regular contact with senior government colleagues in the Department for Transport. The Northumberland Line is proof that Tories working together deliver for the region, and is why I know I can deliver on the Leamside Line in Durham if elected as Mayor in May.”

Proposals for reintroducing passenger services between Ashington and Newcastle started gathering pace in the 2010s under both Labour and Conservative administrations at County Hall.

Feasibility studies were carried out under Labour before the Conservatives came to power in 2017 and continued with the plans, securing government funding for the project in 2021.