Government u-turn on Leamside Line pledge less than 24 hours after reopening announced

Regular passenger trains have not run on the Leamside Line since 1964. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

The government has u-turned on their pledge to reopen a disused rail line less than 24 hours after it was announced as part of Rishi Sunak's "Network North".

The Leamside Line, which runs from Pelaw in Gateshead to Tursdale in County Durham, was included in initial announcements about the ‘Network North’ programme revealed by Rishi Sunak on Wednesday using funds originally allocated for the cancelled leg of HS2 between Manchester and Birmingham.

However, all references to the line have been removed from the Network North website with roads minister Richard Holden confirming the government was simply “committed to looking into” the project instead.

The Leamside Line reopening was announced on the Government website yesterday but all reference has now been removed. Credit: Government website

Henri Murison, the chief executive of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “If this is what they have done and they have gone back on their word, how can we believe anything else that they have said in the last week? How can the prime minister have any credibility on the commitments he has made?

“If they don’t honour their commitments made on this it would be significant evidence of a betrayal of the North of England.”

Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner Kim McGuinness said the Leamside announcement made on Wednesday was “always a scam”.

She added: “The Leamside line was included in all the regional briefings to the media and politicians and within a day it had been deleted from their investment list.

“The prime minister’s promise to the North East didn’t even last 24 hours – only a fool would trust Rishi Sunak again.”

Reopening the Leamside Line was part of Rishi Sunak's Network North announcement. Credit: PA

Campaigners have been calling for the line to be restored for years after it was closed to passengers in 1964. It would allow Metro services to run through to Washington and provide a diversionary route for the East Coast Main Line, freeing up more space for freight and passenger trains.

Mr Holden, who is the Conservative MP for North West Durham, suggested the decision to restore the line could still be taken by local leaders using a £1.8bn Government transport settlement that the North East will receive.

However, he confirmed the Government itself would only be working in an advisory capacity.

"We are committed to looking into it [Leamside]," he explained. "We want to work with local partners to consider the different uses for the route and what their priorities would be for transport in the area.”

The government currently remain committed to reopening a station at Ferryhill, in County Durham, as announced yesterday. The former station is on the Leamside line.

A spokesperson for the government told ITV Tyne Tees: “We are funding a new Ferryhill Station, and providing around £1.8 billion funding to the North East - an investment only possible due to the billions of pounds redirected from HS2.

“This investment will empower local leaders to fund the transport projects that matter most to their communities – including funding for the Leamside line if they choose to.

“We are working closely with Transport North East as they work on the business case for the re-opening of the Leamside Line.”

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