IN making the case for Great British Railways, the new body that will replace Network Rail, to be based in Stockton in his column (Echo, Nov 29), it’s a shame that Stockton South’s MP, Matt Vickers, chose to make cheap political jibes about our Labour-led council.

Read Matt Vickers' column here

As it happens, this came just days after he was given reassurances of the council leadership’s support for this bid and after the full council had already unanimously backed a motion calling for that very same thing.

Let’s be clear – this council will always support quality jobs coming to the borough. It’s a no brainer, and we will of course do everything in our power to bring the Great British Railways headquarters to Stockton-on-Tees.

But like any other kind of bid, there will be a bidding process. As things stand, the details of any such process have not yet been published, nor is there any indication of when that will happen. If we meet the criteria, we will be submitting a bid.

In the interim, we have written to the Transport Secretary making a statement of intent. It can do no harm to put down a marker reminding him of Stockton’s vital contribution to the birth of passenger railways and give evidence of our commitment to, and pride in, that heritage.

It is wrong to suggest that the absence of a railway museum in Stockton is indicative of any lack of pride. The fact is that the National Railway Museum selected Shildon as a base for their Locomotion museum, rather than Stockton or Darlington, because Shildon was the site of the Timothy Hackworth works that played a crucial role in the development of early steam engines. Some of those original buildings were in use for rolling stock manufacture into the 1960s.

In Stockton the line came to the dockside, and that is a story we are keen to reveal.

More recently, we have taken available opportunities to celebrate our railway heritage.

Drive into Stockton along the renamed 1825 Way and you reach the St John’s Crossing. This name was reinstated in tribute to the original point at which the Stockton & Darlington Railway crossed Bridge Road.

At St John’s Crossing there is a sculpture depicting Locomotion as it appeared on its inaugural journey, and an interpretation board.

In the centre of town, you’ll struggle to miss the Locomotion No 1 mural in Bishop Street car park.

And on setting foot into Stockton High Street at lunchtime something you’ll definitely not miss (you’ll hear it if you don’t see it!) is the Stockton Flyer automaton, which rises from a plinth at 1pm every day, attracting crowds of onlookers, who film it on their phones as its bells and whistles pay loud tribute to our proud railway heritage.

So I repeat, we will do everything in our power to promote our case to bring the Great British Railways headquarters to Stockton. No doubt the field will be highly competitive but Stockton’s contribution to the birth of passenger railways really does make it a powerful contender.

Matt needs to put his party political gesturing to one side since surely, it’s something we stand a better chance of achieving if we work together.

  • Councillor Jim Beall (Labour) is the cabinet member for Health, Leisure and Culture at Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council