Northumberland Line could create an “east coast economic powerhouse”
An “east coast economic powerhouse” stretching from Edinburgh to Leeds could be created if the Northumberland Line rail scheme gets the green light.
A public inquiry into the project has now opened in Blyth, with a government-appointed inspector set to spend four weeks hearing arguments for and against the plans.
And bosses behind the bid to reopen what was previously known as the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne Line have insisted it could play a major role in the economies of Scotland and northern England.
Opening arguments have been heard at a public inquiry into the planned project to reopen passenger services between Newcastle and Ashington, with backers claiming the scheme could "catalyse economic growth" in the North East and neighbouring regions.
“Time and again, transport infrastructure schemes have been shown to catalyse economic growth,” Richard Turney, a lawyer for Northumberland County Council, told the inaugural session of the inquiry, at Blyth Civic Centre.
“The scheme can also help distribute growth through economic networks across the surrounding areas.
“Since the region brings together the Borderlands, it could help create a greater east coast economic powerhouse from Edinburgh to Leeds, if it has sufficient connectivity.
“Whilst the scheme is decidedly and proudly a regional scheme, it contributes to sustainable economic growth at a national level and the national economy would benefit from more efficient transportation of people, business creation and higher employment rates.”
The series of hearing, currently slated to conclude on Thursday, December 2, is due to rule on an application for a Transport and Works Act Order (TWAO) needed to authorise track works.
Addressing the government appointed inspector, Richard Clegg, Turney described the role of the TWAO as “essential but limited”.
Planning applications for four of the new stops needed for the route, as Ashington, Bedlington, Seaton Delaval and Northumberland Park have already been given the green light.
Decisions are pending on the final two stops which require planning permission, at Blyth and Newsham.
Although closed to passenger services in 1964 as part of the Beeching Cuts, most of the track infrastructure remains in place due to its continued use for freight services.
Most remaining rail works are expected to be carried out under “permitted development” rights.
The TWAO is considered necessary however for the compulsory purchase of land and accompanying rights, as well as authority to close level crossings and other rights of way.
Turney added: “For over half a century, withdrawal has defined south east Northumberland.
“In the 1960s, long-running passenger services on [what was then the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne Line] were terminated.
“In the 1980s, key industries, ship building and mining, collapsed, resulting in high levels of unemployment and deep pockets of social deprivation.
“In recent years, economic activity and employment opportunities have moved to urban centres, like Newcastle.
“The region lacks a reliable, affordable, comprehensive public transport network that connects its communities together and the key economic hubs – the status quo needs to change.”
The public inquiry is set to continue at Blyth Civic Centre.