Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Gilsland Station reaches the House of Commons

It is possible that we will be able to reflect on this evening at some point in the future and say this is when it happened.  The moment when the Gilsland Station campaign went electric, literally. Transport in Northumbria (stretching Northumberland somewhat) has been a real cinderella. Campaigns like Leamside and Ashington Blyth and Tyne seem to go round and round in circles measured in decades. How can we underplay the achievement of Hexham's present Tory MP Guy Opperman  in securing an adjournment debate this evening? Many subjects were mentioned including needy road projects like the A1, A66 and A69 whose dualling I would not contest. But Ovingham and Wark Bridges also got their space.

For me I focus on trains and so tonight did the debate. These are headlines. Guy was invited to meet with the Electrification Task Force within the House of Commons and present the case for the Newcastle & Carlisle. This is potentially a huge move. Whether you have a starter project to run electric trains from Newbiggin to Metrocentre or Hexham, or whether you understand this is the only cross country railway for 100 miles each way north or south and hence its electrification is just a basic piece of national strategy, there is no underplaying that invitation.

Everyone has to grasp that opportunity. And here is an aside, only one Labour MP bothered to turn out. Thankfully he did ask about Ashington Blyth and Tyne and thankfully Guy did agree it was needed and it needed connecting to the Tyne Valley. The evidence from Merseyside, through Manchester and in Rail North is that progress comes to those who work together. Did Labour shun this debate? What a pity if they did. Luminaries like Sir Alan Beith and Rory Stewart and John Stevenson turned out. I don't take political sides, I am sure all people in Northumberland want their MPs to get together and to get transport sorted out, dual the A1, re-open the AB&T and electrify it and the Tyne Valley to form a whole. That would be progress.

In that picture Gilsland suddenly flowered. The study has been done, get the capital paid for and it will wash its face. A station actually sat on the core central section of the Hadrian's Wall World Heritage Site with major sites in easy access, and more or less on the Pennine Way. Gilsland will seem marginal to most but it literally straddles Opperman and Stewart's border. Proving that rural investment can beat borders is so important.  Now hear this, Claire Perry the Transport Minister who responded in a generally positive vein (and we all know the wriggle room her department is leaving itself over Pacers which had their space in the debate) PROMISED to visit Gilsland in 2015. That is saying to everyone involved there is all to play for here.


(the 9th of December 2013, Blaydon Labour MP David Anderson celebrates more trains calling at Blaydon Station and has to endure the Pacer, a bus on rails, a 30 year British Leyland National owing nothing to anyone mounted on a freight wagon underframe, David was not in the chamber tonight)

I have a challenge for the Labour party politicians of Northumberland. For Gilsland to go forward (since the platforms are in Northumberland) the county has to place the project high in its transport planning scores for it to work through the GRIP process. An officer called Stuart McNaughton needs political authority to push Gilsland. If the Labour party desire they can more or less kill Gilsland, small project that it really is. That would though say: this is how we do business in the North East. It is a way to get nowhere. The politicians of all colours in Northumberland should enthuse about both Gilsland and Ashington Blyth and Tyne together and not run them against each other. Do that and there is no Connected Up Northumberland let alone a connected up North. So for those who were not in the chamber last night, I very much hope they still get the message. Guy Opperman achieved a huge amount for a lot of the North this evening. He should be applauded and that includes people like Heaton depot MP Nick Brown (where was he?). And in applauding, these Labour politicians should be quite entitled to have Guy's wholehearted support and lobbying skills to take the trains back into Newbiggin.

To close: a Prudhoe station upgrade was also on the floor as an important project to undertake. Peter Nevin: be pleased!

To see the debate go to

To read a transcript of the debate go to

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