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Orpheus never left the underworld

On Tuesday, the incomparable Diamond Geezer compared Transport for London’s 2004 plans for their network to the 2024 reality. He concluded:

The map may not have happened in full but a goodly proportion of it eventually did, delivering better transport links for all.

I thought I’d undertake a similar exercise for my home region—North East England—and see how we fared.

In 2002, with much fanfare, the regional public transport executive Nexus published a £1.5bn ‘visionary’ public transport plan, dubbed Project Orpheus. This was to combine light rail expansion in the region with the re-introduction of trams and the construction of a cable car on Gateshead’s quayside. By 2018, the map was supposed to look like this:

So, how much of the 2002 ‘vision’ actually happened? How much fell by the wayside? How much of it happened later than planned?

I’d go through proposal-by-proposal in the style of Diamond Geezer, but it’s not worth it: none of the proposed extensions to the network happened; all of it fell by the wayside. As DG says, ‘all that really matters is what got built’—and none of it did.

Which isn’t to say we got nothing: we’ve had two new infill stations at Northumberland Park (2005) and Simonside (2008), refurbishment of many stations and rebuilding of Haymarket (2009), North Shields (2012), South Shields (2019) and Sunderland (2024). Several single line sections have been converted to dual running, the train shed has been completely rebuilt, and a new communications system has made live tracking available in an app.

We’re also due to get new Metrocars to trundle around the Metro track, maybe sometime later this year, only a decade-and-a-half after the end of the design life of the existing fleet (which is, erm, falling apart to such an extent that timetables have been cut to run the service with few working trains—and even with that mitigation, punctuality fell to its lowest ever level).

Unlike London, we might not have received even a fraction of what was promised, but we have had hundreds of millions of pounds of investment… and that’s an awful lot more than some other places have got.

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Summer showers

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Three bridges

Here are three bridges crossing the Ouseburn.

Nearest to the camera is the Ouseburn Viaduct, which carries the East Coast Mainline. It was built of timber in 1839, and rebuilt in iron thirty years later. When I took a photo of it twelve years ago, it was undergoing an extensive restoration.

Furthest from the camera is the 1878 Byker Bridge, originally a toll bridge—though the charge was removed in 1895. It carries the road now designated the A193.

In the middle is the newest of the three, Arup’s much-celebrated 1970s curving concrete Byker Viaduct, with joints glued together. It carries the Tyne & Wear Metro between Manors and Byker.

Though people assume he was born in Denmark, Arup’s founder, Ove Arup, was in fact born a stone’s throw from the bridge in Heaton. He was born in 1895: closer in time to the construction of the two preceding bridges than the one his firm designed. He had retired by the time the firm took on the Byker Viaduct project.

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Relaxing greenery

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Football free zone

Normally, during rush hour, this four-lane section of Newcastle’s Great North Road would be chockablock. As I walked home yesterday evening, it was eerily quiet. The England-Denmark Euro 2024 men’s football match clearly caused a major deviation from people’s usual travel habits—something I wouldn’t have predicted. I know consciously that football is extremely popular, but my own lack of interest blinkers me from casually anticipating these kinds of effects.

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The vibe

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It’s windy in Newcastle

When you think of medical schools in Newcastle, this one might not be the first that springs to mind. Since 2007, it has been possible to study in Newcastle for a chunk of the five-year medical degree award by St George’s University in Grenada. These days, one can study as much as four years of a five-year medical programme with St George’s University in Newcastle.

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Home and dry

I passed these friendly folk on my way home from work. Most people in the UK think that cows lie down when it’s about to rain, but I’m pleased to report that beautiful sunshine saw me home.

One of the problems with posts like this, which repeat stories that are simply untrue, is that the lie can stick longer in the mind than the truth. One suspects that some politicians may be choosing to exploit that fact at the moment.

The 2019 General Election result showed that being sacked for lying twice was no barrier to gaining the public’s trust—but one wonders whether that trick can be pulled repeatedly.

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What becomes of the banks departed?

Two years ago, I reflected on the post-lockdown closures of my local high street branches of Barclays, Santander, NatWest and Nationwide.

Since then, Gosforth High Street has also lost branches of HSBC, Halifax and Virgin Money. The last branches standing are those of Lloyds and the Newcastle Building Society.

And so, you might wonder: what becomes of the banks departed? Let’s work our way northwards.

At number 59, Barclays remains empty, still with its previously-hidden Martin’s Bank sign on show. The premises have recently been sold:

At 117, Nationwide—whose adverts tell us that face-to-face banking matters—is now an upmarket cafe and soft play venue:

At 129-131, Santander is now banking on flame grilled chicken:

At 149-151, NatWest have left their exterior in a right state:

Within Gosforth Shopping Centre, Virgin Money is now mostly advertising an ‘urban park market’, which sounds like something you’d come across at CenterParcs:

At 178-180, Halifax is yet to find another function:

At 189-191, HSBC remains vacant:

Shall we check again in another couple of years?

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Mul’s at the pub

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