Claims Northumberland Line rail project a ‘no brainer’

Plans to restart passenger rail services between Ashington, Blyth and Newcastle have been branded a “no brainer”, as bosses make a final push for approval.

The team behind the proposed Northumberland Line say it is a 'once-in-a-generation' opportunity, and not one to be missed.
The team behind the proposed Northumberland Line say it is a 'once-in-a-generation' opportunity, and not one to be missed.

A public inquiry into the Northumberland Line project has now wound up, after running throughout November.

And after a month of pleading their case to a government-appointed inspector, transport chiefs will be hoping they remain on track to start running trains from 2024.

“The real and pressing need for the scheme is not seriously disputed,” said Richard Turney, a lawyer for Northumberland County Council.

“It is clear from a visit to a town such as Ashington, the benefits of a reliable train into Newcastle and beyond is a no brainer.

“South East Northumberland has undergone significant economic decline since the 1980s, when the key industries on which the region relied, shipbuilding and mining, collapsed [and] now has high levels of unemployment and deep pockets of social deprivation.”

Turney, who has previously claimed the project could help create an “east coast economic powerhouse” stretching from Edinburgh to Leeds, was speaking at one of the final public sessions of the inquiry.

The series of hearings was scheduled to rule on an application for a Transport and Works Act Order (TWAO) needed to authorise track works, as well as authorise land purchase powers at key points along the route.

Formerly known as the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne Line, it was shut to passenger services in the 1960s as part of the Beeching Cuts, although remained in use for freight.

Opposition to the scheme has largely focused on specific elements of the scheme, such as the uninspiring design of stations or a planned underpass in Ashington to replace an existing level crossing.

Others such as Malhotra Commercial Property, a major landowner in the North East which objected to land it has earmarked for a care home in Ashington being compulsory purchased to make way for a car park, disparaged the economic arguments for the scheme.

Turney, however, dismissed this “casual allegation”, insisting instead the case to proceed was “clear, well-evidenced and, frankly, indisputable”.

He added: “This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to turn a train line, which currently is used only by occasional freight services, into an asset to serve the community of south east Northumberland.”