'People deserve answers' says Sunderland MP over fears rail scheme will be watered down
An MP fighting for the full restoration of a mothballed train line is disappointed at a rail minister’s response to fears that the scheme will be watered down.
Transport campaigners want a government pledge to fully reopen the Leamside Line – which closed to passenger traffic in 1964 as part of Dr Richard Beeching’s infamous cuts – in its upcoming Integrated Rail Plan (IRP).
They believe full restoration would ease pressure on the nearby East Coast Main Line and potentially lead to an extension of Metro services to Washington.
There are concerns, however, that the Department for Transport (DfT) may only support a partial reopening known as Leamside South.
Bridget Phillipson, the Labour MP for Houghton and Sunderland South, fears such a “short-sighted” scheme would overlook Fence Houses in her own constituency and recently wrote to rail minister Nick Heaton-Harris about her worries.
Mr Heaton-Harris, who has previously supported the line’s restoration, responded by saying: “This plan is intended to ensure that future rail investment is scoped and delivered in an integrated manner, whilst driving down costs and over-specification.
"As a result, its forthcoming publication will inform the department’s planning for the long-term future of both the East Coast Main Line and additional rail routes throughout the North East.”
Ms Phillipson has now said: “For years I've argued that reopening the Leamside Line in full would help our region fulfil its potential, greatly improving access to the job and leisure opportunities that will be so important to our recovery after the pandemic.
“It's why I was concerned to learn that the Government is considering a Leamside South option that downscales this ambition and would mean many communities, including mine, are still not served by rail services.
“These are points I made when I wrote to the rail minister earlier this year, explaining why such an option would not bring the same long-term benefits.
"It's disappointing that in his response, the minister has simply ignored these concerns rather than putting them to rest.
“If the Government is seriously considering this much more limited option, it's vital they are upfront about whether it delivers the same economic and environmental benefits as reopening the Leamside Line in full.
“Local people deserve answers on this and I will keep up the pressure on ministers until we have them.”