Doomed assembly will fight for rail link

THE Government has been accused of turning its back on the North’s transport ambitions and told high speed rail travel is still a priority.

THE Government has been accused of turning its back on the North’s transport ambitions and told high speed rail travel is still a priority.

The North-East Assembly met yesterday to decide its response to the Government’s proposed changes to the Regional Spatial Strategy.

The RSS is the planning blueprint for growth in the North-East over the next 14 years.

The assembly had included a recommendation in the RSS that a high speed rail link should be developed to boost the region’s economy, but this has fallen foul of Government planners, who insist the comments are removed.

Assembly deputy chief executive Malcolm Bowes said the possibility of high speed travel must be kept alive.

He said: “At today’s meeting, members fully endorsed the changes the NEA proposes to the transport policies.

“The NEA has expressed serious concerns that the Government’s proposed changes have watered down the transport priorities for the region.

“It was agreed unanimously today that the NEA would continue to support a phased programme of improvements to both road and rail infrastructure, including a high speed link for the region in the longer term, and this response will now be sent to the Secretary of State.”

Their commitment to rail comes despite Minister for the North-East Nick Brown telling businesses last week that high speed rail was no longer a priority.

At a meeting last Friday, Mr Brown said: “I have stepped back from being the North-East advocate for the high speed rail link.

“I think we should focus on the East Coast Main Line rather than a scheme which could consume billions of pounds worth of public money.”

At a meeting in Durham yesterday, the NEA – which will be abolished in 2010 – formally agreed on its response to proposed changes by the Government, many of which it supports. On employment land, the NEA considered the Government’s plan to scrap employment sites was “excessive” and has recommended a number of sites should remain in the strategy, including those at Faverdale, Heighington Lane, Tursdale, NetPark and Seaham.

An overall increase in housing provision from a net increase of 112,000 to almost 130,000 had already been endorsed at an NEA meeting on July 16.

North-East Assembly chair Alex Watson said: “Our shared vision for the North-East has been endorsed and the main themes of a stronger economy, sustainable communities a better environment and improved communications remain at the heart of the strategy.”

A spokesman for the Department of Communities and Local Government said the comments would be considered before the final RSS was produced.

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