Last night I chaired the council’s Economic Prosperity sub-committee. This is part of the democratic function known as ‘scrutiny’ where elected members from various wards around the borough (of all parties) examine and challenge the policies, decisions and spending of the Mayor and her cabinet.
The item in focus for us this meeting was the role of public transport in supporting the thriving of our local economy. I was very pleased that Deputy Mayor, Cllr Carl Johnson, agreed to attend the meeting to answer questions from members. He truly is a goldmine of knowledge on public transport matters, not least because he chairs the regional public transport committee.
Much of Cllr Johnson’s presentation related to ways in which North Tyneside is, or will be, benefitting from the delivery of policies agreed in the North East Transport Plan. After years of working in silos the 7 council areas of Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle, North Tyneside, Northumberland, South Tyneside and Sunderland finally agreed a collective transport strategy for the whole region. You can take a look at it by clicking here. It contains some really interesting policy proposals (such as extensions to the Metro network), some astonishing travel statistics and a large number of ‘shovel’ ready schemes.
We were pleased to hear that on the basis of the new strategy a huge investment package totalling £170 million has been secured. This will include important new rail infrastructure such as the opening of the Ashington line for passengers. A new station / upgraded interchange at Northumberland Park will make it much easier for North Tyneside commuters to travel both north and south for work. The net effect of all this will be more efficient journeys, greater connectivity and ultimately, economic growth.
Members of the committee, as always, had plenty of questions to ask on behalf of their residents. These were wide ranging, although a particularly important theme was the affordability of public transport, especially when needing to connect between different modes of travel in order to get from point to point i.e. hopping on and off both Metro and buses. This currently isn’t easy/affordable and Cllr Johnson was clear in stating that ultimately we aspire to a fully integrated “London-style” system of tap-in/tap-out with daily spending caps. This is only really possible if we can take the bus network back into some form of public control. This may be made easier if our region can achieve a new devolution deal to include neighbours from South Tyneside, Gateshead and Sunderland, but that’s another huge topic that I hope to write about another day….
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