North East mayor candidates pledge to save Shields Ferry

The future of the Shields Ferry is in doubt. Credit: Nexus

Political rivals vying to become the first mayor of the North East have all pledged their support to save the Shields Ferry.

The future of the Tyneside river crossing has been in doubt for some time, as its existing north landing is expected to fall into an unusable condition in 2025.

Local leaders have been trying for years to find the money to build a replacement terminal closer to the North Shields Fish Quay, but have seen plans fall through and funding bids fail.

One potential lifeline could come from the transport powers and funding that the regional mayor will hold after next May’s historic election, following the agreement of a new, multi-billion pound devolution deal for the North East.

The deal includes an initial five-year City Region Sustainable Transport Settlement (CRSTS) of up to £563m available to be spent up to 2027.

And though much of that money has already been committed, officials at ferry and Metro operator Nexus have already suggested releasing almost £13m of it to finally pay for the new jetty project.

Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, all four of the candidates declared so far for the election confirmed they would back saving the Shields Ferry if the funding decision ultimately falls to them.

Green candidate Andrew Gray, whose party demanded this summer that council leaders urgently come up with an emergency plan to guarantee the ferry will not shut down, said it was “an essential part of our transport infrastructure and it absolutely needs prioritising”.

He added: “It would be good if, in the long term, the Government recognised that ferry services are as vital as local buses – because that is effectively what they are for the people in that area. But in the short-term, absolutely the funding should be drawn down from what we have available. It is essential for people on both sides of the river.”

Nexus previously lost £5.6m it had been awarded from the Government’s Getting Building Fund for the new ferry landing because it could not meet a “strict” timescale which would have required the construction works to be completed by spring 2022.

A subsequent bid to the Levelling Up Fund from North Tyneside Council, which included a wider regeneration of North Shields, also failed.

Independent Jamie Driscoll, the sitting North of Tyne mayor, said the saga “shows how important devolution is” for the region.

He said: “ If I hadn’t gone to Treasury to secure us billions in transport funding, we might be losing it. Now it can form part of an integrated Total Transport Network with free travel for under-18s.”

Labour’s Kim McGuinness and Conservative Guy Renner-Thompson both called the ferry “integral”.

Ms McGuinness said: “I’m committed to backing public transport and will be meeting with officials to look at how we ensure the ferry can continue providing a local service.

“There’s clearly an urgent need for action here, and it’s vital that the Department of Transport sets out now what funds can be freed up early to get this project moving.”

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know... 

Mr Renner-Thompson, a Tory councillor in Bamburgh, added: “It is an integral part of the transport system – and building a new ferry terminal is certainly a hell of a lot cheaper than another tunnel! It would make obvious sense for the mayor [to provide funding]. Maybe not to put all the money in, but use some of it and leverage in other funding from elsewhere.”

Nexus said it is exploring all options to ensure the ferry is not lost, including dropping the idea of a new Fish Quay terminal in favour of refurbishing the existing landing.

Customer services director Huw Lewis said: “As things stand the project remains unfunded, but we are exploring a range of options to secure the money needed, which includes ongoing dialogue with the Government to see what funding streams are available to us. 

“All options are now being looked for the north landing’s future, including a full refurbishment at the current location as well as the proposed new landing at the Fish Quay.

“We have commissioned a survey to understand the interventions required to ensure we can keep the current north landing open beyond 2025. 

“Local community leaders are all backing our funding bid, which, if successful, will help to protect eight centuries of maritime heritage on the River Tyne.”