The North East has been given new funding to push forward plans to reopen the mothballed Leamside railway line.

A restoration of the disused train route, which runs from Pelaw in Gateshead to Tursdale in County Durham, is a top priority for the region’s leaders and has been at the centre of a political storm in recent months.

The Leamside Line was initially included among pledges the Government made under Rishi Sunak’s Network North transport programme announced after the scrapping of HS2’s northern leg in October. 

But, as first revealed by the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) in October, that promise was dropped within 24 hours and the Department for Transport (DfT) subsequently said the project “could” be part-funded by funding given to the incoming North East mayor.

MPs, council chiefs, business leaders, and local transport officials have since been pressing the case with ministers to try and secure the future of the project, which is expected to cost well over £1 billion.

And the Government has now confirmed that, for the first time, it will be giving some money to the scheme – albeit a relatively small amount to help with the early stage of the proposals’ development.

The region has been awarded £350,000 to progress a new “strategic outline case” for the southern section of the Leamside Line, from Washington to Ferryhill.

The work was described by Transport North East on Tuesday as a “pivotal part of the process required to re-open the line” and confirmed that the plans would run alongside the locally-funded business case being drawn up to use the northern section of the Leamside Line in the creation of a £745 million extension of the Tyne and Wear Metro through Washington.

As well as returning train services to communities left without any since the 1960s and offering a raft of new connections across the North East, it is hoped that Leamside Line would also help free up more space on the East Coast Main Line by providing an alternative path for slow-moving freight carriages.

Gateshead Council leader Martin Gannon called the Government’s £350,000 pledge a “welcome contribution”.

The North East Joint Transport Committee chair said: “I’m pleased that, after much procrastination, the Government has finally decided to show some support for the work we are doing to reopen the Leamside Line. The Leamside Line is one of the most important pieces of transport infrastructure in the North East and its reopening will deliver enormous economic, social and environmental benefits to the region – it’s a no-brainer as far as I’m concerned.”

However, Cllr Gannon added: “Despite rumours to the contrary, the Government has not agreed to fund the reopening of any part of the Leamside Line. In fact, on many occasions, it has said the opposite – that the North East will need to fund the line’s reopening. Whilst I wholeheartedly disagree with this position, it is important to be honest and clear in the face of the government’s confusing and misleading ‘Network North’ communications.

“In two months’ time, we will have a new combined authority in the region and I will work with my fellow council leaders and the new mayor to make this scheme a priority – both locally and for the next national government. It is a critical project for the economic future of our region and we need to start making concrete plans to get building.”

The DfT has been contacted for a comment.

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Speaking to the LDRS last week, rail minister Huw Merriman said: “As soon as the Prime Minister’s Network North announcement was made, I met with the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for the Leamside Line as well as the team from the North East. They want to hit the ground running with devolved money and they want to use that money to open the Leamside Line.

“My department is providing the resources to help them move towards a business case – that is going on right now and I really hope we can see the Leamside project funded from the devolved settlement.

“That will be for the North East to decide if they want to – it seems like they do, and we want to work with them to make that happen.”