A devolution deal means that in May, subject to Parliamentary approval, a new combined authority will be formed in the North East, with a new Mayor elected.

The Interim portfolio holder for Transport is Cllr Martin Gannon, Leader of Gateshead Council, who has chaired the North East Joint Transport Committee since it was created in 2018.

The North East has much to offer the rest of the country and we are incredibly proud of our people, heritage, culture, and environment. But there are also things that we need to fix – better skills, improved economic productivity, better housing and dealing with the unique challenges of rural communities, to name but a few.

Transport can enable solutions to many of these problems, and I have been leading the work to develop projects and partnerships that will start to make a difference when the new combined authority is created.

Council leaders in the North East have been working together for many years to develop and deliver our Transport Plan, a vision for a comprehensive, green and integrated transport system that will power growth in our economy and allow everyone to access opportunity.

But for generations we have been held back by both a lack of central government funding and an absence of any meaningful tools to deliver the change that is needed. After many long discussions with the government, I and the other council leaders negotiated a devolution deal that will start to tackle these problems. Does the devolution deal offer all the powers and funding we need to deliver on our ambition? In a word, no. However, it does give us greater certainty of future funding and provides a great platform from which to build.

Under the devolution deal we will have access to a new multi-year financial settlement for transport which is devolved to the region, so that we can plan ahead and align our transport investments with growth in green industry and new housing. New devolved powers will also bring forward opportunities. The combined authority will be able to review, and if needed, change the way bus services are run in the region, have more influence in how rail services are planned and delivered, and push for more investment in the national road network.

We want a transport system that reflects our way of life in the North East: where tickets are fairly priced and easy to use; where timetables fit in with customer needs no matter where they live or how they travel; where everyone can use green transport regardless of their lifestyle or income; and where a world-class transport network actively contributes to better public health for everyone, rather than working against it.

We will make it easier for people to walk, wheel or cycle as much as possible, increase the number of electric vehicle chargepoints across the region, expand the Metro and make our local rail services much more integrated and responsive to our needs. We are already working on plans to extend the Metro to new communities such as Washington, along the Leamside Line – a major strategic priority, and one that we are determined to secure funding for and deliver in the future.

To conclude, we’ve had great plans for transport for a long time, but we have not had the tools or resources to deliver them. The devolution deal, although far from perfect, will mean that we can finally make a start on delivering those plans. Our transport activities will work as part of our integrated strategy to improve our economy, skills, health, and environment. I am confident that by working together as councils in this way, we will show the world what an amazing region the North East is, and make it clear to the government that it needs to back us with more funding and further devolution.