WHEN our transport system works well you might barely notice it, but when it doesn’t meet the public’s expectations it can quickly become a make or break issue for politicians.

Because our area has an elected metro mayor, we benefit from extra Government investment that other areas don’t get, and we have devolved powers which allow us to decide our own transport priorities.

From the first Roman crossings over the Tees at Piercebridge and Middleton One Row, the networks we travel on have developed over nearly 2,000 years. In the middle ages, ports at Yarm, Hartlepool and Stockton grew and linked us to the world, then the Stockton and Darlington Railway placed us at the centre of the industrial revolution and helped to create what is now Middlesbrough.

In the 20th Century man took to the skies. In our region this led to the creation of RAF Goosepool, which went on to become RAF Middleton St George and finally Teesside International Airport. From 1966 until very recently, families and business people took off from Teesside for holidays and trips all over the world.

Now we have a number of big decisions to make about the future of transport in the Tees Valley which will affect how we drive, ride, cycle, fly and sail for decades to come. This means we don’t just have to think of the challenges that we face today, we must be mindful of what changes in population and technology might mean in coming years.

For this reason I have announced £45m for two transformational railway projects, started work on implementing London-style bus franchising in the region, and opened negotiations to take back control of Teesside airport.

In Darlington, I have committed £25m to upgrade our station, which will be part of a £120m-plus programme which won’t just improve the station itself, but the entire area surrounding it.

In Middlesbrough, I have approved £20m for the railway station, which will cover the full cost of its redevelopment. This will mean direct trains from Middlesbrough to London, and a long overdue new image for part of the town centre that many politicians have ignored for years.

On top of what we are doing locally, the Government is backing our transport plans. Since my election, the Tees Valley has received £75m to invest in the transport priorities we determine. Areas without mayors have to go cap in hand to Government, but we don’t need to.

Our freight network and ports are a vital part of our transport network, so I have taken the first step in allowing the largest freight containers to travel directly from Teesport to York and beyond, rather than them having to be diverted via Darlington. This not only makes it more economical for companies to use our port, but takes the strain off our rail infrastructure in the west of the region. In the New Year, I’ll also present a White Paper to Government setting out the case for a “free zone” in our region.

When our forebears first bridged the Tees, built the railways, and opened our airport, they did so because they had a vision of a better world. Our infrastructure and the prosperity it has helped to create is our inheritance from generations past, and in this sense we are standing on the shoulders of giants. Because of this, we owe it not just to ourselves but to the future people of the Tees Valley to make our transport network fit for the future.

  • Ben Houchen is the Conservative directly-elected mayor of the Tees Valley