Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Tories Set for Rethink on Upgrade for Metro; and No Promises on the A1 Either

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Tories Set for Rethink on Upgrade for Metro; and No Promises on the A1 Either

Article excerpt

Byline: William Green

TYNE and Wear could face a new battle over the pounds 325m upgrade to the Metro if the Tories win power.

Shadow transport minister Stephen Hammond yesterday told The Journal an incoming Conservative administration would evaluate every single transport project in the country to see if they offer "value for money".

And he added that it was up to the representatives of the region to prove the business case to secure funding.

The comments sparked concern among business chiefs and come after the Government promised a pounds 325m package to upgrade the Metro network.

Mr Hammond also said he could not commit to improving the A1 Western Bypass around Gateshead and Newcastle, or to dualling fully the A1 north of Newcastle, despite Tory leader David Cameron previously saying there was a "good chance" the two projects would be taken forward.

The tough message comes amid predictions of large public spending cuts whoever wins the next general election, increasingly expected next May.

No date was given as to when the region might be connected into a new high-speed rail network by the Tory transport spokesman. Currently, the party has promised only to build a link between London and Leeds. Mr Hammond also signalled that the troubled East Coast Main Line rail franchise could be returned to the private sector much more quickly than the two years planned by the Brown Government.

The franchise is due to be renationalised within weeks after current operator National Express hit financial problems.

Andrew Sugden, from the North East Chamber of Commerce, said: "Stephen Hammond is obviously being cautious in the light of the public finances and what they are likely to be post-election.

"However, we would strongly urge that the Metro upgrade is retained and high-speed rail to the region is part of the first phase of investment. …

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