Lively debate poses most pressing transport links issues in the North East

Regional figures from business, politics and infrastructure joined The Journal and The Gazette's Transport Links Breakfast

Graham Robb, Senior Partner of Recognition Marketing and PR at The Journal Transport Links Breakfast
Graham Robb, Senior Partner of Recognition Marketing and PR at The Journal Transport Links Breakfast

The region's top infrastructure priorities were hotly debated between North East business leaders at The Journal and The Gazette’s Transport Links Breakfast.

Held in association with East Coast, the event featured representatives from the worlds of business, infrastructure and politics, who all put forward their thoughts on the needs of the region.

Chaired by Darlington businessman Graham Robb, the panel debate kicked off with Stephen Catchpole, managing director of Tees Valley Unlimited LEP, who called for careful prioritisation of connectivity needs.

He said: “We have to contemplate a mixture of strategic communications and transport issues, both at local and national level. I think we need an integrated strategy that looks at the long term, medium term and short term - balancing all the needs.

“The Scottish Referendum has shown us we cannot operate in isolation from the rest of the country. If we’re going to benefit from the economic growth associated with transport development, we have to make sure our regional projects dovetail with national connectivity.”

Mr Catchpole’s sentiments were echoed by TT2 chief executive Rachel Turnbull, who suggested that transport projects could be funded by public-private partnerships, in the same mould as TT2.

Speaking in her capacity as head of the Dual the A1 group, Conservative politician Anne-Marie Trevelyan said: “We’ve got to change Westminster’s view on how they spend money on infrastructure in the North East. Unfortunately we’ve been poor at doing this until now, and there is a huge gap in spending that needs addressing.”

Challenged by chair Mr Robb on whether dualling the A1 in Northumberland could be justified against other transport spending demands in the region, Mrs Trevelyan said an upgraded A1 in the area would help to open the region up to business from Scotland.

Speaking about the reclassification of the road, as one of national importance, Mrs Trevelyan said the A1 in Northumberland its a key connective artery in the national context.

In June the campaign achieved a significant milestone in the commissioning of a feasibility study into the proposals, announced by Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

 

Mr Catchpole added: “Too many of the transport development cases up here are based on emotion and they need to be built on proper economic evaluation. Then you can begin to properly prioritise schemes and move forward efficiently. It shouldn’t be about how loud one case shouts - we need to do that collectively on the national stage.”

Port of Sunderland director Matthew Hunt highlighted the importance of the port sector while Graeme Mason, planning and corporate affairs director at Newcastle Airport, highlighted the need for the North East to continue backing proposals for a third runway at Heathrow.

Mr Mason pointed towards the airport’s relationship with former Newcastle City Council Leader Lord Shipley, who is leading the National Connectivity Taskforce and said the airport had asked Lord Shipley to make sure the charging regime at Heathrow does not price regional services out, and to investigate if planning permissions for a third runway at Heathrow could include conditions that reserve some of its capacity for regional services.

In response to questions about future routes from Newcastle, posed by audience members, Mr Mason added: “It’s safe to say that routes people have communicated they would like to see from Newcastle are very much on the agenda. We have a dedicated team working to get those routes for the region.”

The debate also moved on to rail links. Martin Turner, East Coast’s head of Sales said his firm’s commitment was to connectivity as a driver of economic growth.

Referring to the scheduled part-privatisation of the East Coast Main Line in March 2015, Martin Turner, East Coast’s head of Sales, said: “I’d encourage everyone in the region to take a look at the East Coast service and make their voice heard before March next year. It’s your chance to influence the way the service is run.

“I would also urge people to lobby hard about investment in the East Coast Main Line. The amount of rolling stock available to East Coast and having to factor in maintenance of rolling stock each night means we’re running at capacity.”

Mr Turner suggested that investment in the rail infrastructure and more rolling stock could lead to an increased number of services. He also questioned the length of franchise agreements on rail routes, noting that current seven-year franchise periods offer no incentive for businesses to invest in rolling stock.

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer