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19/05/2014

Thoughts on the Tyne and Wear Metro strategy

Tyne and Wear Metro train

News that local transport chiefs have given the green light to a new development strategy for the Tyne and Wear Metro presents a particular challenge to planners to ensure that extensions to the system serve the parts of the area allocated for development in the local plans that cover its patch.

Despite the headlines that have focused on potential extensions and street-running trams, the main drivers for the strategy are much more mundane. The main one is the need to specify new rolling stock to keep the existing lines open and the need to make key decisions on this before the operating franchise with DB Regio ends in 2019.
 
It’s a world away from the original plan for the Metro, itself the centrepiece of the old Tyne & Wear Structure Plan, which was developed in the 1970s. This was almost a text book example of an integrated land use and transport plan.
 
This vision was never implemented in the envisaged form. The structure plan was watered down at the inquiry stage. Tyne & Wear County Council was abolished and the plan was replaced with five Unitary Development Plans. The buses were deregulated with a loss of the envisaged type of modal integration. And developments such as the Gateshead Metrocentre have taken place on the Trunk Road network rather than the Metro.
 
The current strategy includes some extension proposals and rail services to Washington New Town for the first time since 1964 and a street-running tram serving the West End of Newcastle, which is also remote from the Metro. What strikes me is that the strategy and the individual extension proposals within it make scant reference to land use policy or the emerging local plans for the area.
 
This is because of the current disconnect between land-use and transport planning processes. The administrative and governance structures make the strategic approach difficult to achieve through “duty to co-operate”. We await a national policy framework for transport and the funding streams are relatively short term, making planning of locally promoted large infrastructure projects like Metro more problematical. But there is hope and planners have a role.
 
The new LA7 Combined Authority was due to be created at the start of April with its functions covering transport along with skills and economic development. Planners will need to develop the spatial dimension to LA7’s proposals in those fields. The relationship between the emerging local plans and Metro plans will need to be nurtured. The exciting possibility is the role of the planner as an advocate in working with the rail engineers and specialists.
 
David Marshall provides transport policy advice to a local authority in north-east England
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