Politicians were in deadlock over plans to open the Leamside Line today as Labour committed to restoring the rail link, while the Transport Secretary failed to be drawn on whether he would back the project.

Shadow Transport Secretary Louise Haigh backed the reopening of the Leamside Line while speaking in the North East on Monday (February 6).

Ms Haigh said a Labour government would reopen the mothballed line between Gateshead and County Durham, which could revolutionise rail services across the region.

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But speaking to The Northern Echo, Transport Secretary Mark Harper failed to back the plans when drawn on whether his party would restore the 21-mile line.

The Northern Echo: Mark Harper speaking from the Newsham, Blyth on the Northumberland Line on Monday.Mark Harper speaking from the Newsham, Blyth on the Northumberland Line on Monday. (Image: PA)

Speaking from the Northumberland Line in Blyth, which the government on Monday vowed to reopen by Summer 2024, Mr Harper told the Echo: “There’s a business case being put together for the Leamside Line which the department is looking at, but you have to do these things as you can do them.

“There’s a very strong case being made by Members of Parliament like Paul Howell [MP for Sedgefield] and the Department will look carefully at the detail, work through it and then I will be provided with advice and can take decisions in due course.

“There’s lots of good projects but we have to look at the business case, look at how much it costs, see if it stacks up.”

But when asked whether he would like to see the line reopened Mr Harper failed to directly back the project.

The Northern Echo: Shadow Transport Secretary Louise Haigh backed the reopening the Leamside Line on Monday.Shadow Transport Secretary Louise Haigh backed the reopening the Leamside Line on Monday. (Image: TWITTER/@LEAMSIDELINE)

The comments drew a clear battleground between the two major parties to be fought at the next General Election.

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The Leamside line fell victim to the Beeching cuts of the 1960s which saw thousands of stations and miles of track taken out of use across the country.

It is hoped that reopening the mothballed route - which runs from Gateshead, through Washington, Penshaw, Fencehouses, West Rainton, Belmont and Shincliffe, before merging with the East Coast Mainline (ECML) at Ferryhill - could increase capacity on the East Coast Mainline and open up opportunities for a £745m extension of the Tyne and Wear Metro, bringing a huge economic boost to the region.

The Northern Echo: The Leamside Line. File photo.The Leamside Line. File photo.

The campaign to restore services has been backed by cross-party MPs including Conservative Sedgefield MP Paul Howell and Washington and Sunderland West MP Sharon Hodgson, who served as Keir Starmer’s Parliamentary Private Secretary until last week.

Mapped: Where the Leamside Line runs through the North East

In 2021 the Government set out plans for a £17.2bn investment in Northern Powerhouse Rail. But the plan fell short of a larger £42.1bn proposal put forward by Northern leaders.

Speaking at the Transport for the North conference held in Newcastle on Monday, Labour’s Shadow Transport Secretary Louise Haigh said her party would build HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) in full, including the reopening of the Leamside Line.

Speaking to ITV she did not, however, put a specific price on the project.

Haigh said that without the new lines of NPR “we will not have the transformational improvements in capacity and time savings that will help create the regional network that the North deserves,”, adding that the “unacceptable” state of the North’s transport infrastructure had made the region “less than the sum of its parts”.

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It comes as Mr Harper visited the site of the Northumberland Line which will reconnect Newcastle with Blyth and Ashington when passenger services return for the first time In decades.

The Northern Echo: Transport Secretary Mark Harper at the Northumberland Line on Monday (March 6).Transport Secretary Mark Harper at the Northumberland Line on Monday (March 6). (Image: PA Wire/PA Images)

The Transport Secretary said: “This is a clear sign of our investment in the North East of England.

“We had a very good pitch for this as part of the ‘Restore Your Railway’ programme and we’re getting on and delivering it with six new stations, faster transport and more opportunities for people.”