An MP has accused ministers of "giving up on the North" after Newcastle missed out on becoming the new headquarters of Britain’s railways.
The city had made the final shortlist of six locations vying to house Great British Railways (GBR), but has now lost out to Derby. It had been hoped that Newcastle’s strong connections to the birth of the UK’s railways, as the home of Robert Stephenson’s locomotive works, would help deliver success.
But the Government confirmed on Tuesday morning that Derby, where thousands of people are employed at the Alstom train factory, had prevailed – also beating Birmingham, Crewe, Doncaster, and York. Newcastle Central MP Chi Onwurah complained that ministers “just don't see the North as a target for investment”.
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She told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: "I am incredibly disappointed that Newcastle was not chosen to be the home of GB Rail HQ. Newcastle was the birthplace of George Stephenson and the home of the railways. It was the natural choice and I want to thank everyone who worked so hard to bring GB Rail home.
“I am sorry that the Government seem to have prioritised other considerations but nevertheless offer my congratulations to Derby and wish it well. Unfortunately, this Government just don't see the north as a target for investment – we saw that with HS2 & Northern Powerhouse Rail. This is another instance of the Tories giving up on the north, not levelling up."
Newcastle City Council leader Nick Kemp added that he was “disappointed” to miss out but admitted: “Our bid was strong but clearly not as strong as Derby's. I’d like to wish them all the very best.”
GBR is a new body that will absorb Network Rail, set most fares and timetables, and be responsible for issuing service contracts to private train operators. It was initially due to be launched in early 2024 but has since been delayed.
The Department for Transport pledged that Newcastle and the other unsuccessful bidders could become “powered up regional GBR hubs” with local-decision making and investment powers. The North of Tyne mayor, Jamie Driscoll, added: “Congratulations to Derby on winning the bid. It is good to see institutions moving out of London.
“I spoke to the Transport Secretary yesterday to make sure we’ll have a regional team in the North East, to help us deliver that Total Transport Network that I want to see. Integrating rail, metro, bus, cycling and walking is the only way we can get economic prosperity and deal with the climate emergency at the same time.
“That means having a transport network that’s so fast, so reliable and so affordable that people have a genuine alternative to buying a car.”
The transport secretary, Mark Harper, called Tuesday’s announcement a “key milestone for the entire rail industry across the country”. Anit Chandarana, lead director of the Great British Railways Transition Team, said: “The announcement that Derby will be the home of the Great British Railways Headquarters is another important milestone on our journey to create a simpler and better railway for everyone in Britain.
“Although Derby will be the home of our Headquarters, Great British Railways will also introduce empowered regional centres, to bring decision making and leadership much closer to local customers and communities. The Transition Team is continuing to work with Government and the wider rail industry to deliver this much needed reform and we look forward to working with colleagues in Derby in the coming months, too.”
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