North East councils hit out at transport fund cuts

Ministers were accused last night of cutting £60m from a transport funding pot intended to improve North East roads

Traffic queues on Great North Road, on the approach to the Blue House roundabout
Traffic queues on Great North Road, on the approach to the Blue House roundabout

Transport ministers were last night accused of “undermining” efforts to improve North East road systems after a Government funding pot was slashed by more than £15m.

The region’s seven local authorities had been promised an indicative figure of nearly £47m during a radical effort to improve the region’s infrastructure.

A pooled cash pot had been earmarked to help improve a “rescue list” of 11 transport projects including the Haddricks Mill junction, the A167 Cowgate junction and the A189/B1318 Blue House roundabout.

But now the Department for Transport (DfT) has said the seven councils which make up the LA7 Leadership Board will be allocated £31.1m – a third less than previously thought.

A DfT spokesman last night denied they had “cut” funding and said they had made more than £12bn available to the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) areas.

Chairman of the LA7 Leadership Board, Coun Mick Henry, said the investment would help open up new employment but criticised the decision to reduce the funding pot by a third.

He said: “This agreement is an early example of the opportunities that would make a difference in our region through greater devolved funding from central government and it demonstrates the commitment of the Leadership Board to work together to secure the best possible deal for the North East.

“This is a significant step forward in our ambition for a truly modern transport system for the North East.

“It is deeply disappointing that, on the day the Leadership Board has set out this strong and ambitious programme of investment, the DfT should announce a cut in the amount of funding available. It undermines the principles of localism.

“Despite this, we’ve undertaken robust planning and preparation for each scheme and we are in a strong position to press ahead and compete to secure funding from the Single Local Growth Fund to complete the programme.”

In total seven councils have backed a £58.1m package of improvements on roads in the North East.

The funding includes £9.3m for a South Shields transport hub, �8m for a Sunderland low carbon zone, £7.9m for the A1058 Coast Road and £4.5m for Horden sea view rail station. The board will now make an application to the Single Local Growth Fun to secure the additional cash needed to carry out the work.

A DfT spokesman said the initial figure given to authorities was just an indicative figure and was liable to change.

He said: “The funding that the Government allocated on Tuesday is guaranteed for every local transport body but is only one element of over £12bn being made available to LEP areas between 2015/16 and 2020/21 through the Local Growth Fund.

“This includes nearly £5bn of major schemes funding – this will allow far greater levels of local transport investment than had been anticipated prior to the Spending Round. LEPs that rise to the challenge and make a good case for further investment have the opportunity to receive significant share of the £12bn.”

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