The roads minister has failed to confirm a funding uplift for works to the Tyne Bridge and Newcastle’s Central Motorway from redistributed HS2 savings, despite claiming that the scheme is part of the Government's widely-ridiculed 'Network North'.
On Friday (2 February), roads minister Guy Opperman said the Government will provide £35.2m towards the total scheme cost of £41.4m, with the remainder of the cash provided by Newcastle City Council and Gateshead Council.
The £35m was first announced in June 2022 under the Major Road Network (MRN), which is funded through hypothecated Vehicle Excise Duty.
Despite the scheme receiving no funding under the Network North plan, Mr Opperman said: ‘This is part of the Government’s Network North plan, which will improve local transport across the North East.’
When the Government announced last autumn that it would not build Phase 2 of HS2, it said ‘most’ MRN schemes would receive an uplift in government funding from 85% of the cost as assessed at outline business case stage to 100%.
However, by this time the scale of the Tyne Bridge works had been cut back after costs rose.
This week, Newcastle City Council leader Nick Kemp used a visit to Downing Street to ‘lobby for the release of a £41.4m Tyne Bridge funding package’ – representing the full current cost of the works.
Following the announcement, Mr Kemp said: 'While we welcome the news that this funding is now in place, we have had to campaign hard for the funding to be released.'
Gateshead Council leader Martin Gannon said: ‘We're so glad to have this vital funding confirmed.’
Newcastle City Council said the councils 'await further confirmation of the outstanding £6m which was pledged as part of the Network North announcement in October, where government would commit the full £41.4m.'
The DfT said that after receiving the final supporting information from the councils in late 2023, it was then able to start to fully assess and progress the business case, ‘working quickly to approve the funding for the maintenance works to start as soon as possible’.
Mr Kemp responded: 'Council officers have worked incredibly hard to ensure the full business case for the project was submitted in a timely manner.
'I thank them personally for their commitment. 'It has been very disappointing to see the Government suggest that the delays in this funding being released was a result of delays in paperwork being submitted by the authority. That is simply not the case.'
Under the scheme, Tyne Bridge will undergo an extensive renovation programme, alongside major improvements on the Central Motorway East (CME) A167.
The Department for Transport said the works will help improve the appearance of the bridge and improve access for vehicles, adding that boosting the structural integrity of the bridge will mean that heavier vans and lorries will no longer need to be rerouted through residential areas.
Before the announcement, the two councils warned that any delay to the engineering works could mean that costs will increase, the project will not be completed in time for the bridge's centenary, ‘and that another Great North Run and nesting season for the Quayside's kittiwakes would be disrupted’.
Newcastle said scaffolding had been in place for a number of weeks already ‘but we had hoped the work would have started by now’.