Tensions rise after Government responds to £41m Tyne Bridge repair funding delay

A feud over the absence of promised Government funding for the restoration of the Tyne Bridge has deepened further.
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Tempers continue to rise over the Department for Transport’s (DfT) failure so far to hand over more than £40m it has pledged towards the long-awaited refurbishment of the rusted bridge.

Council bosses are anxiously awaiting the arrival of the money, which the DfT first committed to in June 2022, so that the critical maintenance project can begin in earnest – something it was hoped would start this month.

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Tensions have now been further stoked by the Government claiming that local authority officials did not submit all of the required documentation needed for the scheme to be greenlit until last month – saying it is still “ in the process of being assessed” in Whitehall.

That statement, provided to the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS), was met with anger by Tyneside leaders on Friday, with Newcastle City Council insisting that the DfT has had their final business case for the Tyne Bridge revamp since July 2023 and only that the last minor pieces of requested clarification were submitted in November.

The Tyne Bridge. Photo: Getty Images.The Tyne Bridge. Photo: Getty Images.
The Tyne Bridge. Photo: Getty Images.

Meanwhile, an MP has accused the Government of “crass neglect” towards what is one of the most recognisable symbols of the North East.

Gateshead MP Ian Mearns has raised the issue of the Tyne Bridge in Parliament three times this month, including during Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday – when he said it was “instantly recognisable around the world as an emblem of Tyneside” and warned of “significant additional cost implications if funding does not come forward”.

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There are worries that further delays to the repairs, the first major maintenance on the bridge for more than two decades, will result in the crossing’s dilapidated condition worsening even further and the cost of the project spiralling.

And, with the engineering works expected to take around four years to complete, a setback now could mean the Tyne Bridge will not be looking back to its best in time for its centenary celebrations in October 2028.

Mr Mearns told the LDRS on Friday that he was yet to receive any reply from the DfT and accused the department of “crass neglect”.

The Labour MP added that the funding would have been delivered by now “if this was Lambeth Bridge, or Westminster, or Waterloo” – three London bridges within sight of the Houses of Parliament.

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Responding to a plea from local council leaders Nick Kemp and Martin Gannon, the DfT told the LDRS that it was only able to start to fully assess the Tyne Bridge scheme and progress its business case after receiving the last pieces of supporting information in December.

A spokesperson said: “Network North will see every penny of the £19.8bn committed to the Northern leg of HS2 reinvested in transport across the North, including the restoration of the Tyne Bridge in the North East.

“Last month the council provided the final supporting documents required to progress the business case, which is in the process of being assessed.”

Following years of campaigning, the DfT announced in June 2022 that it would put £35.3m into a project to refurbish both the bridge and the Central Motorway.

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And, under Rishi Sunak’s Network North pledges made after the scrapping of HS2’s northern leg, an uplift in funding has recently been promised to cover the full £41.4m budget of the scheme.

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Civic centre sources in Newcastle said that the full business case was lodged with the DfT on July 10 last year and that they had sought to “speedily” answer any follow-up questions, the last of which was done on November 20.

A Newcastle City Council spokesperson said: “Since submitting our bid in 2019, we have campaigned hard to see the Tyne Bridge returned to its former glory.

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“This bid was approved in June 2022, when we were given programme entry approval, subject to our Final Business Case being completed, and that was submitted in July 2023.

“In anticipation of the funds being released, we have scheduled the main bridge to get underway in early 2024, which is subject to Government releasing the funds. This is still outstanding.”