Bridget Phillipson, Labour Member of Parliament for Houghton and Sunderland South, has this week called on the government to invest in regional rail infrastructure and deliver improvements to local bus networks during a parliamentary debate on transport.
The debate, which took place in the House of Commons chamber on Wednesday 05 February, saw Ms Phillipson make the case for extending the Tyne and Wear Metro to Doxford International Business Park, as well as reopening the Leamside Line, a mothballed rail corridor running from Newcastle to Durham through Washington and Fencehouses.
Making the line operational again has been identified by Nexus, the Tyne and Wear Passenger Transport Executive, as important due to the projected demand on the East Coast Mainline in coming years. It is believed that the Leamside Line would be able to provide additional capacity for freight and passenger services.
Recognising the long-term nature of these projects, Ms Phillipson also pressed ministers to immediately resolve problems with local bus services by giving local authorities the power to introduce bus franchises, which could lead to an integrated, more affordable smart ticketing system.
Such a move was put forward by Labour peers during the passage of the Bus Services Act 2017, but was later rejected by the Conservative government.
Following the debate, Ms Phillipson commented:
“For years now, I have made the case to government that local people are being let down by our totally inadequate public transport system – and that we deserve much better.
This has fallen on deaf ears, as successive Tory ministers have ignored the real need we have – refusing to give us the powers to fix our failed bus network, or provide the funding we need to expand local rail services.
The potential is there – reopening the Leamside Line and extending the Tyne and Wear Metro would finally bring much-needed rail services to our constituency. It would open up job opportunities to local people, attract business to our area, and help tackle congestion and poor air quality.
These projects would need significant government support – and I’m concerned recent announcements on rail funding are little more than a symbolic gesture, that go nowhere near far enough in providing the scale of investment needed.
That’s why I’ll be inviting the Transport Secretary to come to the north east and visit the Leamside Line, so he can see for himself what could be achieved by investing in local rail infrastructure – and also understand the support we need from government to make this a reality.
There are steps ministers could be taking right now, like giving us the power to fix our broken bus network.
I know how frustrated local people are with the state of our buses, from overpriced fares to routes being cancelled on a whim. They should be able to have more of a say over how buses are run, which is why I argued for ministers to give us the powers we need to franchise bus services.
Such a change means we could finally introduce a fair, transparent and integrated smart-ticketing system, and create a bus network that puts passengers before shareholder profits.
It isn’t right that our area has been let down when it comes to rail and bus services. I won’t rest until ministers deliver the changes we need to fix our public transport system.”