In a Westminster Hall debate on 8th February 2022, Mary made the case for the reopening of the Leamside Line.

The campaign to reopen the Leamside Line has been picking up steam following the Government’s Integrated Rail Plan, which left no funding available for the route in east County Durham.

The debate, led by Labour MP for Washington and Sunderland West, Sharon Hodgson, focused on the merits of reopening the railway line which would increase connectivity, boost the economy, and reduce road use. The debate had cross-party representation with County Durham MPs from Labour and Conservative Parties backing the line’s reopening.

Speaking in the debate Mary said that benefits of reopening the line massively outweighed any issues with cost that the Government had. Mary also highlighted the lack of trust that constituents have in the Government to actually deliver on their levelling up agenda:

In Durham we hear a lot from the Government about levelling up. The term has been used so interchangeably by members of the Cabinet in reference to every scrap of funding or half-baked policy that is thrown our way in the north-east that it has pretty much lost all meaning. In Durham, it is spoken about with increasing irony and frustration, with the words “So much for levelling up” becoming more and more common every time the Government over-promise and under-deliver.

 

The full text of Mary’s speech can be found below:

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) for securing this debate. She is a tireless campaigner for the Leamside line, and the entire region is grateful for her work.

In Durham we hear a lot from the Government about levelling up. The term has been used so interchangeably by members of the Cabinet in reference to every scrap of funding or half-baked policy that is thrown our way in the north-east that it has pretty much lost all meaning. In Durham, it is spoken about with increasing irony and frustration, with the words “So much for levelling up” becoming more and more common every time the Government over-promise and under-deliver.

Levelling up should be about more than delivering one-off funding or a few insecure jobs. It should be about transforming the infrastructure of our left-behind regions and improving our schools, homes, roads, railways, economies and so much more, so that the communities we live in—those we are proud to call home—can deliver to a person in the north-east the same quality of living and the same life chances as someone in a more affluent region has. Investment in our transport systems, including our railways, is integral to that.

Transport infrastructure has been underfunded in the north. That is not my opinion; it is fact. In 2019-20, transport spending was more than £560 higher per head in London than in the north-east, while transport investment was almost £380 higher per head in London. The levelling-up agenda was meant to right those wrongs and make up for the years of deprivation and underfunding. That is why I and many of my colleagues in the region are frustrated beyond belief at the Government’s continued refusal to invest in the north-east’s transport infrastructure by reopening the Leamside line.

There are few issues that I and my neighbour, the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Paul Howell) agree on, but on the reopening of the Leamside line we are in complete agreement about its benefits for County Durham and the wider region. In fact, the campaign is supported by virtually every politician in the north-east, regardless of their political party, as well as by our region’s major employers and business groups. That is because the economic and social benefits of reopening the line are clear.

Reopening the line would create more capacity for rail freight, taking polluting lorries off the road. In turn, that could allow more longer-distance passenger services to operate from Durham station on the east coast main line. It would drastically improve connectivity across the region, with the potential to bring rail services to Bowburn, Belmont park and ride and West Rainton in my constituency, creating new public transport links with major employment centres such as Nissan and transforming the economic opportunities for people in County Durham. Reopening the line could also be an integral step in attracting thousands of jobs to County Durham. I have heard at first hand from stakeholders in Bowburn of the benefits of the Leamside line for the Integra 61 site and the surrounding villages, and I am happy to rasie their support today.

 

Although the Government agree that the plans have “good potential in terms of transport and socioeconomic benefits”, they believe that “the overall cost of the reinstatement remains prohibitive”.

 

Even though the entire project would cost just £600 million and bring new levels of connectivity to the north-east, it is deemed to be too expensive by those in Government. Do Ministers understand how insulting that is to our region when HS2 is projected to cost at least £80 billion? In the north-east, we are all too often treated as second-class citizens and as less deserving of investment.

 

In the north-east, we are too often treated as second-class citizens and as less deserving of investment. Yes, the plans would cost money, but the best things do. I believe that Durham deserves the best and our county is worth investing in. I only wish the Government thought the same. Sadly, Ministers seem to find it easier to let the north-east down than to level it up.

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