NE Mayor Elections 2 May 2024

NE Mayoral Candidates at the Transport Hustings 5 March 2024. From left to right Guy Renner-Thompson (Conservative), Jamie Driscoll (Independent), Andrew Gray (Green Party), Paul Donaghy (Reform UK), Aidan King (Liberal Democrat) and Kim McGuinness (Labour Party).

In May 2024 voters in NE England will choose a new NE Mayor as part of the region’s North East devolution deal, with new powers over transport, housing and skills. In our previous blog we look at what the deal means for transport in the NE and at what other Mayors have committed to elsewhere in the UK. In this blog we look at the candidates’ manifestos to see what they are promising.

Six candidates are standing in the election. They are Jamie Driscoll, the current North of Tyne Mayor who is standing as an independent having been excluded from the Labour Party shortlist, Kim McGuinness (Labour Party), Guy Renner-Thompson (Conservative), Aidan King (Liberal Democrat), Paul Donaghy (Reform UK) and Andrew Gray (Green Party).

Thank you to all candidates for setting out their policies in detailed manifestos and for attending many hustings and public meetings to set out their case.

Walking and Cycling

The NE devolution deal commits the authority to prioritise investment in cycling and walking networks, making “sustainable travel the first choice for short trips, or as part of a longer journey”. The new Mayor will have significant powers available to achieve this being responsible both for “all local roads maintenance funding” in the region and for maintenance of a Key Route Network of local authority roads.

Kim McGuinness (Labour Party) and Jamie Driscoll (Independent) both explicitly commit to new walking and cycling routes, though neither have committed to any targets for how big that network should be.

Our small twitter poll showed a strong preference for 1,800 mile walking and cycling network like Manchester, with several people suggesting it should be even larger as the NE covers a much bigger area.

Jamie Driscoll (Independent) says he will “support local authorities to roll out more and better walking and cycling routes that stay off the roads and avoid dangerous crossings” and will “establish a bike hire network at key public transport interchanges and secure cycle locker parking across the network.” He will “support more initiatives to help kids walk or cycle safely to school, like the great success we’ve seen at Hotspur Primary in Heaton”.

It isn’t entirely clear how useful this commitment will be, as most local destinations like schools, shops and workplaces are all on roads, so wouldn’t be accessible from routes that ‘stay off the roads’.

Kim McGuinness (Labour Party) is the only candidate to commit to appoint an Active Travel Champion, which we presume is the “Active Travel Commissioner” referred to in the devolution deal. She promises to “work to expand our cycle network and introduce an electric bike hire scheme …, making sure bike and walking routes are joined up and active travel hubs are introduced” and will “start by working with local authorities to make sure it’s safe for families to walk or cycle to school”. 

Andrew Gray (Green Party) says he will “support for the redesign of town and city centre streets, to give priority to pedestrians and cyclists”, will “improve commitments on pedestrian infrastructure” and will establish local freight depots to enable the use of delivery by cargo bike and smaller electric vehicles.

Paul Donaghy (Reform UK) makes a limited commitment to “work with local authorities and educational trusts to develop walking & cycling to school schemes” and “will introduce parking permit schemes in residential areas close to schools which will encourage parents to leave the car at home.” He doesn’t clarify what the “schemes” will be so these could be improvements to make roads safer, or may just be more badges for children who walk to school but do nothing to make roads safer.

Neither Aidan King (Liberal Democrat) nor Guy Renner-Thompson (Conservative) mention walking or cycling in their manifesto. Guy Renner-Thompson (Conservative) does says he will discourage “any developments that hinder car access to our cities”, which could limit pedestrianisation schemes or parking controls.

Aidan King (Liberal Democrat) did comment on the now removed Jesmond LTN in his Council election leaflet (he is also standing for Councillor in South Jesmond ward) saying he is “pleased the [Labour] Council has finally seen sense and removed the bollards.” A majority (55%) of South Jesmond residents that responded to the consultation supported retaining the bollards.

Public Transport

The new Mayor will have access to bus franchising powers. This will allow the Mayor to decide which bus services should be provided and agree with bus operators to provide those services.

All candidates (other than Aidan King (Liberal Democrat) who doesn’t mention transport in his manifesto other than the Leamside line) commit to improvements in the public transport network, to introduce integrated fares and more buses in areas that are currently not well served by public transport. 

Jamie Driscoll (Independent) and Kim McGuinness (Labour Party) also both commit to bus franchising and aim to make transport free for under 18s. Paul Donaghy (Reform UK) proposes “free transport for school age children during term time”.

Andrew Gray (Green Party) commits to “using new powers to regulate the buses” but doesn’t mention fares.

Aidan King (Liberal Democrat) does mention public transport in his entry in the official election booklet, saying he will deliver “simple, cheap ticketing and a service residents can rely on to get from A to B”.

Guy Renner-Thompson (Conservative) says he will work with bus companies but doesn’t propose to take advantage of bus franchising powers. Paul Donaghy (Reform UK) proposes a hybrid “partial public ownership” model.

None of the candidates mention what compromises they will make in order to achieve a wider coverage of bus routes and lower fares. This would have to be via additional funding or by removing services from existing routes.

NE Transport Map from the NE Transport Plan

Net Zero Transport

The devolution deal sets the expectation that “the Local Transport Plan will implement quantifiable carbon reductions”.

Candidates’ manifestos offer lots of promises to improve alternatives to driving but none propose any policies to constrain total miles driven, which will need to reduce by 20% in addition to a rapid transition to electric vehicles to achieve UK carbon budgets.

Paul Donaghy (Reform UK) is the most explicit in rejecting net zero, claiming the “Net Zero Agenda” is destructive and is “making us poorer”.  Clearly this is nonsense. Walking or cycling are both the cheapest and most environmentally-friendly forms of transport.

Guy Renner-Thompson (Conservative) says he will discourage “any developments that hinder car access” and will prioritise key road dualling and junction upgrades. All of which will lead to increased emissions.

Kim McGuinness (Labour Party) wants to implement “largest electric vehicle charging network in the country” but also says she will “back the much-needed Bowburn Bypass and continue the fight to finally secure the backing we need to dual the A1 to Scotland”. According to estimates by National Highways, dualling Morpeth to Ellingham alone will release an additional 1.4m tonnes CO2e into the atmosphere.

Jamie Driscoll (Independent) also boasts he “worked with Government to divert cancelled HS2 money to dual the A1”, saying that when upgraded “it can be the spine of a fast, reliable Northumberland bus service.” Extra buses won’t offset the additional 1.4m tonnes CO2e though, and arguably there are much better uses for the ~£400m that A1 dualling will cost.

Jamie Driscoll (Independent)’s claim that he will “build a low-carbon transport system that is so good that thousands of people will voluntarily give up owning cars” is a good ambition but without other policies to reduce car use is unlikely to lead to a reduction in total miles driven – which is what is important for reducing emissions.

Andrew Gray (Green Party) is the only candidate with a policy on roads that doesn’t propose expanding the road network, instead focusing on a “wider network of Electric Vehicle (EV) charging points” and “Vehicle scrappage schemes”. At the Transport Hustings held in Newcastle at the start of March he said “We do need to use sticks as well as carrots. We need to really start to move away from road traffic and reduce transport overall so people don’t have to travel as much as they do overall.”

Newcastle’s Clean Air Zone

The Clean Air Zone in Newcastle, implemented at the start of 2023, was required by the Conservative Government to ensure air quality in the city should meet legal limits. This isn’t something the new Mayor will have any powers over but candidates shared their views at the Transport Hustings, which gives a bit of insight into their thinking.

  • Guy Renner Thompson (Conservative) who has previously said he wanted to scrap the Clean Air Zone said “the Government said air quality had to be improved but they didn’t say how to do it – that was up to Newcastle City Council.” This isn’t entirely true. Government technical guidance was quite specific about the need for a Clean Air Zone and what vehicles should be charged. The Government did say Councils could propose alternative approaches but they had to achieve legal limits in the same or quicker timescales, so almost certainly would have required some form of financial disincentive.
  • Paul Donaghy (Reform UK) claimed the CAZ was a “stealth tax on the working class and on businesses.” and that “pollution doesn’t stop because you pay the council a few quid.” As well as being wrong to suggest CAZ don’t work (there is plenty of evidence they do), arguably, asthma and other poor health due to air pollution are much more of a stealth tax. It is well documented that poorer people emit the least but suffer most from air pollution.
  • Kim McGuinness (Labour) didn’t say if she supported the CAZ but she did say: “Someone in a £70,000 Range Rover won’t have to pay, but a person who can’t afford a new car will. It’s a regressive tax.” Actually neither would have to pay as the zone doesn’t charge for private vehicles, and even if cars were charged most second-hand petrol cars are compliant.
  • Jamie Driscoll (Independent) said the clean air zone was a “very bad way of achieving a very good thing. The solution is better public transport, more active travel, and a far better charging network.” These would all help, but wouldn’t have achieved legal limits in the required timescales.
  • One of two candidates to fully support the CAZ was Aidan King (Liberal Democrats), a doctor working at the RVI. He said “My patients dying early because of dirty air that Guy is going to let be exposed to is something I’m not keen on at all. In dense urban areas clean air zones are absolutely essential public health measures to improve the lives of our people.”
  • Andrew Gray (Green Party) also supported the CAZ. He said: “One person’s choice is somebody else’s asthma or injury. If we don’t get this right, we’re limiting other people’s choices.”

Road Safety

Despite the Mayor being responsible for the future Key Road Network, which will take a large proportion of the region’s traffic, only Andrew Gray (Green Party) mentions “Roads maintenance to improve safety for all road users.”

The lack of focus on road safety is extremely disappointing. As we said in our recent Traffic Crash Injury 2023 blog, there were 50 fatalities, 628 serious injuries and 2,233 slight injuries in the NE in 2023.

In the first two months of 2024 there have already been 3 people killed, 76 seriously injured and a further 290 people with slight injuries. When the March data is published it will include the death of Andrew Murphy from Gosforth who was killed in a traffic collision at the end of March. Yet most candidates have no policies to address road danger.

Based on Department of Transport estimates, in addition to the personal costs to people who were killed or injured and their friends and families, deaths and injuries from road traffic collisions will have cost the NE region £315 million in 2023.

Full Manifestos

If you are interested and want to see what the candidates have written in their own words, both for transport and in other areas, please have a read through the full manifestos. If you spot any important points we have missed please let us know.

Other Sources of Information

Related ChronicleLive Articles

  • ‘The buses need to make sense’ – Rural transport issues discussed at North East mayoral debate ChronicleLive
  • ‘Integrated’ transport system at the heart of pledges at mayoral hustings event ChronicleLive
  • North East mayoral candidates clash over clean air zones and car use ChronicleLive
  • Tory mayoral candidate wants to scrap Newcastle Clean Air Zone tolls – but councils insist he can’t ChronicleLive
  • Mayoral candidates have their say on what they would do to combat Tyne Bridge disruption ChronicleLive