Extending and upgrading the Metro system should be a key manifesto commitment from the main political parties vying for Number 10, a regional planning expert has said.
James Hall, partner at planning and design consultancy Barton Willmore, called for the parties to pledge financial support for taking the Metro to new areas in Northumberland, South Tyneside and Wearside.
He said new links to former coalfield towns such as Ashington and Washington could make a big impact on the prosperity of the region.
James explained: “By opening up new lines to underserved places we can make jobs in centres of employment like Newcastle and North Tyneside more accessible.
“This could really stimulate growth in the regional economy and mean new housing can be better distributed in less crowded areas.
“It could also help to alleviate some of the pollution challenges Newcastle City Council has been trying to address.
“This is a really big opportunity to create material change in the North East – and the main parties should get behind it.”
He said the Conservatives’ suggestion that city regions would get funding to make local transport connections “as good as London’s” was positive but bold and called for more detail on how Labour would support local public transport infrastructure.
On housing, James said Conservative suggestions of amended planning rules could prove detrimental to the North East.
He explained: “The Conservatives have said they intend to change planning rules so that infrastructure – things like roads, schools and GP surgeries – must be in place before people move into new homes.
“While that might sound sensible, it could put large housing projects in jeopardy as house sales provide the capital to reinvest in infrastructure – otherwise public sector funding has to plug that gap.
“It could mean the region loses out on the new homes it desperately needs, as developers will find it challenging to make new sites viable.”
Hannah Woodall, a graduate planner in Barton Willmore’s Newcastle office, said she was especially interested in the parties’ housing pledges because she is one of thousands of young people facing the challenges of stepping on to the property ladder.
The 23-year-old, who left university this year, said: “Like many young people early in their careers, I’ll be saving for a long time to be able to afford a good quality home.
“This is a big issue and I see the Conservatives’ approach to a “lifetime” deposit scheme for renters as a positive step, although Labour seems to have more in its manifesto – especially the initiative for low cost homes to be reserved for first-time buyers in every area.
“I also think our politicians should be focused on closing the North/South divide. The Conservative manifesto tries to do that – particularly through transport investments. I think the Liberal Democrats are doing the least on that front.”