Sunderland council chief wants clarity on ‘priorities’ for Metro expansion

Metro trains.
Metro trains.

Sunderland City Council’s deputy leader has called for more clarity from transport bosses on their “priorities” for expanding Metro services in future.

On Friday, the North East Combined Authority (NECA) transport committee discussed a new report stating the system already contributes £437m to the regional economy every year.

Coun Michael Mordey

Coun Michael Mordey

The external report – commissioned by Nexus – found there was a case for expanding the network to parts of Newcastle, Durham, Sunderland and Northumberland.

It added every commuter, shopper or tourist riding on the Metro adds an average of £8.50 to the economy for every journey they make.

Under the ‘Metro Futures’ programme, any service expansion would include weighing up economic benefits and a full business case.

Deputy leader of Sunderland City Council, Michael Mordey, speaking at Newcastle Civic Centre meeting, called for clarity on the potential expansions, including the prospect of a new Washington line.

“Are we any further forward for a time scale on what routes we’re going to prioritise?,” he asked.

“We’re talking a lot in abstract terms but in 18 months we haven’t been able to determine where our priorities lie.”

Nexus managing director, Tobyn Hughes, responding, said each option would be judged on economic benefits and that there was currently no need to prioritise certain routes.

He added looking at expansion options in a detailed way would allow decisions to be made around sourcing funding for the schemes.

“Only then will we have more of an understanding of what the different extensions will look like,” he said.

“Some schemes can come forward quite quickly. Some might be relatively easy if there’s already infrastructure in place. Some might take a bit longer.”

Several calls have been made to expand Metro services to Washington, including a long-standing campaign by Labour MP for Washington and Sunderland West, Sharon Hodgson.

The Conservative group on Sunderland City Council also made recent calls for expansion, citing it as “one of the biggest townships in the country without a functioning rail link.”

The new Metro report does not identify individual locations for expansion but notes sites which would benefit economically from better transport links.

Among them are Nissan, the under-construction International Advanced Manufacturing Park in Sunderland, Gateshead Quays and Gosforth business park.

Alongside a £362m project to replace the aging Metro fleet by 2021, transport bosses also aim to remove three remaining sections of single track and ‘twin track’ lines to run daytime services every ten minutes.

Plans include rolling out the ‘ten minute’ standard across the entire network with a business case currently being developed.

Mr Hughes added: “Any new route will need to have a business case supporting it and any changes to the timetable need to have a business case supporting them.

“Any changes to the Metro will need to be funded from somewhere. It’s a reasonable assumption that more extensions to the system will increase cost in the system.

“This will be offset from the economic benefits to the area. “

For more information on the Metro expansion programme, visit: nexus.org.uk/metrofutures

Chris Binding , Local Democracy Reporting Service