Just before Parliament was prorogued, I had the privilege of presenting a petition on behalf of many of my constituents involved in the Save our Derwent Walk campaign.
The Derwent Walk Country Park, running from Swalwell through Winlaton Mill to Rowlands Gill, is a great mixture of woodlands and riverside, with amazing views over the Derwent Valley and a fine mix of flora and fauna. The country park has been formed from the route of the former railway line from Consett to Newcastle, closed in 1962.
It is such an important part of our community – people from across the region come here to walk, sight see, fish and immerse themselves in a such a unique environment.
I’m proud that my constituency contains such a great part of our history and our heritage, from the Nine Arches Viaduct, views of Gibside to the Butterfly Bridge, there is so much to celebrate across this glorious landscape.
But now this vibrant and wonderful country park faces the threat of destruction or irrevocable change through the proposal of a permanent rail link route being put through its centre. An outline business case has been submitted to the Department for Transport.
Tearing through this wonderful and vibrant country park to recreate a railway would be nothing less than environmental vandalism and would hugely damage our local environment as a result.
Some incredible local activists have come together to form the ‘Save Our Derwent Walk’ group and there has been a huge level of support and love shown to our Derwent Walk, and a great determination to retain the park and the opportunity for people from across Gateshead to walk, cycle and enjoy nature.
It was with their help that I was able to deliver the petition from my constituents showing the support for this walk to Parliament – but amazingly, the paper petition was backed up by more than 25,000 signatures on an online petition, showing a huge amount of support in the area for the Derwent Walk Country Park.
I will continue to do all I can to support this campaign and to protect the heritage and history of the region.
But we do need improved transport links. I fully understand that need and demand for better transport links across our region. I am a passionate advocate of this in Westminster. Seeing bus services to so many communities under threat, I have been vocal about the need for extra support to help protect bus companies as they rebuild after the pandemic.
I backed the ambitious plans set out by Transport North East in its recent Bus Service Improvement Plan and it was great to see it receive the largest allocation of funding in the country. It will allow it to look forward and plan for the future of our services.
It’s not as much as we need and not as much as we asked for, but the allocation of £163.5m will transform bus services across the North East, greatly improving the bus network for millions of passengers and encouraging more people to make the switch to bus.
As a regular bus user in both the North East and in London, I know the value in having a great bus service. It can vastly change communities and open up opportunities for our young people in our community. Something that can vitally change our region for the better.
The ambition to improve our transport links should not come at the cost of a vital part of our environment and heritage.
The Derwent Walk is popular with so many visitors and with it being such a popular cycle route. It would be devastating to lose this at the heart of my constituency, and I know this will be a concern for all the surrounding communities.
Our region needs better transport links and the Blaydon constituency most certainly wants them. We should be looking at longterm, affordable measures that can serve the whole of the North East and it should not come at the cost of so many residents within the communities I represent.
Above anything else, we should absolutely remain committed to not tearing up the beautiful landscape of the Derwent Walk.