A report to Middlesbrough Council says that £20m is needed to be spent imminently on our station to ensure direct rail services to London can begin on time. That being so, it is important to keep the record straight and I want to take the opportunity to do that.
There’s one thing all local civic leaders and regional rail industry representatives agree on and that is Middlesbrough Railway Station is a vital transport gateway into the Tees Valley. The fact that 1.3m passengers use the station annually supports that view so it is crucial we make sure we achieve a modern, city centre scale transport hub.
Unfortunately, attempts by Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen to blame Middlesbrough Council for the lack of investment in track, signalling and platform capacity at Middlesbrough Railway Station are, quite frankly, ridiculous. He is completely and utterly wrong.
It is only because of the insistence and initiative of Middlesbrough Council and myself that we’ve made the progress that we have. I am determined to keep working with the Council to hold Network Rail and the Department for Transport to account until we have the station and the services we need and deserve.
I’ve campaigned and pressed to bring the direct link between Middlesbrough and London Kings Cross to fruition for over 5 and half years and I’ve been working closely with Middlesbrough Mayor Dave Budd and Council Officers, as well as coordinating the rail industry partners to keep this project moving forward.
Ultimately all of this is within the gift and expertise of the Government and Network Rail (who own the station) to produce the technical plans that will support the business case to run the planned new express services. Yet it was Network Rail who refused to offer funding for that work and it was left to myself and the Council to find a way forward.
If it were not for the crazy, fragmented railway system we have in this country – where the left hand often doesn’t know what the right hand is doing, we would be in a different place.
In the meantime, following the deal reached by our five Tees Valley Boroughs, the government has made available £59m to fund transport across the Tees Valley vested with the Tees Valley Combined Authority. I am confident the five local authority leaders will support the allocation of £20m for station improvements when they meet next month.
This is taxpayers money and its use in progressing our railway ambitions is not in the gift or largess of Mr Houchen. Rather, we look to the Tees Valley Combined Authority leaders to endorse the plan as soon as possible.
So instead of trying to pin the blame on our local council, Mr Houchen should be praising them for taking up the strain and pushing this agenda. They are, in short, doing other peoples jobs for them – often against the lack of support from his own party in Government.