A new dawn breaking

January 5, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic may have thwarted many plans in 2020, but the North East’s local authorities aren’t letting the travails of the last year affect their outlook for 2021. Steven Hugill and Richard Dawson hear from leaders and officials from across the region about their plans and why the coming 12 months and beyond will welcome a new dawn of investment, prosperity and job creation.

DARLINGTON – Councillor Heather Scott, leader of Darlington Borough Council

Q: Darlington has a number of infrastructure projects in the pipeline, such as the redevelopment of the town’s Bank Top railway station, plans for a new A1 link road and the revitalisation of its Head of Steam rail museum. Given the impact of COVID-19, how confident are you that funding will be secured for these projects and, if it does come to fruition, what sort of impact will these developments have on the town’s economy and jobs market?

A: “These three projects all serve to show the vision we have for Darlington – to create modern, impactful facilities that serve our local communities and visitors to the town, all underpinned by an energetic and growing business base.

“All three have been shown to have a strong business case for Government investment and we are confident that funding will be secured for each.

“The regeneration of the station is a key multi-million- pound infrastructure project, benefiting not only Darlington but also the whole of the Tees Valley and the wider North East.

“Bank Top is a key gateway and investment will realise significant transport and wider regeneration benefits. “Improvement to the East Coast Mainline is vital if it is to operate at its best and this has long been recognised by industry experts and the Government.

“The creation of a dedicated Tees Valley line and platform will open up huge opportunities for extra rail services, providing fast, reliable journeys for commuters and visitors.

“It will also give us the opportunity to regenerate the zone around the station, strengthening the links to Central Park and making use of the land newly-vacated by the former cattle market site.

“We’ve long touted Darlington’s excellent position on the East Coast Mainline, its close proximity to the A1 and A19, as well as being close to the revitalised Teesside International Airport, and it’s vital we continue to exploit those links where possible.

“The completion of the A66 bypass around Darlington – completing the last link in the chain at the northern end of the town and providing north and southbound access to the A1 from Teesside – is key to this.

“Not only will it take huge amounts of heavy traffic away from residential areas, but it will cut the journey time for hauliers looking to reach the motorway network significantly. I am sure the plans for the road network around Darlington were a factor for Amazon as they are for other business here – and we believe that further investment in the strategic road network will catapult Darlington and the Tees Valley to even greater economic success.

“The redevelopment of the Head of Steam Railway Museum is an exciting programme.

“Darlington’s heritage perhaps has not been used to its full potential over the years, but the bicentenary of the first passenger rail journey in the world, between Stockton and Darlington, is a real chance to put that right.

“Our plans for the museum will see the creation of a bright, modern heritage campus and visitor attraction, mixing Darlington’s past glories with our current engineering excellence, making a particular feature of the A1 Steam Locomotive Trust as they build their latest engine, the Prince of Wales.

“The challenges that lie ahead in the short-term are obvious and not to be underestimated but we believe that by following our vision and implementing the programmes we have developed, the future for Darlington and its residents is bright.”

DURHAM – Councillor Simon Henig, leader of Durham County Council

Q: The authority’s planning committee last month approved a blueprint to redevelop its Aykley Heads headquarters site into a business park. First-phase development work is anticipated to begin early this year, with the council switching to a smaller office base and relocating some workers to Crook and Seaham. How much does this development speak about the council’s sustainable approach to future operations and its commitment to strengthening County Durham’s reputation as a business hub?

A: “The approval of plans to transform our Aykley Heads site into a major business park is a key moment in the delivery of our £3.4 billion economic strategy and, after an exceptionally challenging year, a sign of brighter times ahead.

“By transforming this prime site into a new and unique business location, we can deliver thousands more and better jobs in growing sectors and maximise our green economic growth for the county.

“This in turn will strengthen our reputation as a business hub on a regional and national level, attracting even more investment into the county.

“Subject to the approval of the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, in the next few months work will begin on the first phase – the creation of 3500 square metres of flexible office space to the north of the site.

“This, combined with the second phase, which will see the development of the wider site, has the potential to boost our economy by £400 million and bring 4000 new and better jobs to the county, plus a further 1800 jobs during the construction phase.

“Of course, all major plans to create new jobs bring with them an element of risk, but in our many conversations with developers and business leaders, it is clear the potential of the Aykley Heads development is huge.

“This view is shared by the North East England Chamber of Commerce and other businesses already located on the site, and it is easy to see why.

“Aykley Heads Business Park will be modern, sustainable and set among mature woodland, a stone’s throw from Durham’s historic city centre.

“With close links to the East Coast Mainline and bus and cycling routes, it will offer a choice of green travel options.

“Similarly, the addition of paths and seating areas within the landscaped areas will provide a pleasant environment for employees wishing to get some fresh air and exercise during their breaks.

“To make way for this once- in-a-lifetime development, County Hall – the council’s current headquarters – will be demolished.

“Construction is underway on a significantly smaller headquarters at the Sands car park.

“This will provide a base for 1000 council staff, boosting footfall and trade in Durham city centre, as well as in Crook and Seaham, where other employees will be relocated.

“Aykley Heads forms an important part of our longstanding mission to attract investment right across our diverse county, boost our economy and provide thousands more jobs for the future, which in these challenging times are needed more than ever.”

GATESHEAD – Sheena Ramsay, chief executive at Gateshead Council

Q: The proposed £260 million arena complex on Gateshead Quayside took major steps forward last year, securing planning approval in November. Why is this such an important development for bolstering the area’s international appeal and what progress can we expect to be made on the site this year?

A: “As our region looks to the future following the impact of COVID-19, this international development signals confidence and reassurance at a critical time for our economy.

“As well as creating more jobs for the region and playing a vital role in accelerating the repair and growth of our economy, this scheme will raise our international profile and bring further investment across a range of key sectors while unlocking further redevelopment on adjacent sites.

“The immediate economic impact will be felt at the construction phase with Sir Robert McAlpine expected on site early 2021, creating more than 600 jobs and supporting the local supply chain with a projected £75 million of investment across the next two financial years alone.

“Construction is critical in supporting public services and keeping the economy functioning.

“The development will confirm the region’s reputation for world-class conferencing and events and capitalises on a demand the region has been unable to meet.

“It will showcase the region’s strengths to a global audience.

“The regeneration story of our quayside continues, and this comes at a time when creating new jobs and opportunities for people has never been so important.”

MIDDLESBROUGH – Andy Preston, Mayor of Middlesbrough

Q: Work to bolster Middlesbrough’s position as a nucleus for developing technology, digital and manufacturing companies grew at pace in 2020, as the opening of the Tees Advanced Manufacturing Park (TeesAMP) was complemented by the expansion of the Boho campus. With the former now welcoming tenants, and the latter due for completion in early 2021, how strong is the town’s offer now for innovative businesses seeking space to expand?

A: “It’s incredibly strong. Great things are happening here and specialist firms big and small want to be part of what we’re building in Middlesbrough.

“Middlesbrough bucked the trend in building and letting commercial space throughout 2020.

“Now, more than ever, we understand the need to transform the local economy to protect people’s livelihoods.

“You mention TeesAMP – units there have been let to a number of specialist companies.

“Around a third of the space is occupied, and terms have been agreed on a further 69,000sq ft. In total, TeesAMP provides 180,000sq ft of high- quality industrial units with exceptional transport links.

“TeesAMP was also picked by the Government to be the new national centre of excellence to research and develop the use of hydrogen technology to power transport. We’re introducing a green strategy with stretching targets and want to lead the way on environment issues.

“Boho is another point you raise.

“Digital jobs are so important. On average, a job in the sector has twice the average earnings of an average Middlesbrough job.

“Boho is going from strength-to-strength and we will absolutely make Middlesbrough the UK’s digital city.

“Boho 8 is just weeks away from completion now, and the good news is we’re in talks with businesses about taking all the units once they’re ready.

“That’s a mix of businesses taking extra space and those expanding into the Boho Zone.

“What we’ve seen in the past six months is a trend in businesses needing more space due to their success.

“Boho 8 allows us to cater for high-growth businesses right here in Middlesbrough.

“A planning application has been submitted for the next piece in the jigsaw, Boho X.

“We’re talking about 60,000sq ft of the ultimate office space, ideal for the digital companies that will do great things across the world from their base in Middlesbrough.

“Boho X will attract new investment and support hundreds of new jobs – but I’m determined that Boho is about much more than just business.

“We’ll develop the Boho Village residential area to attract more people to live in the town centre, where they’ll have the right mix of retail, hospitality and leisure right on their doorstep.

“Only the other day, I read a round-up of all the brilliant opportunities available in our digital sector – bright, ambitious people want to be part of something exciting.

“We’ve got a strong platform to build on and that’s exactly what we’re going to do.

“Middlesbrough is the perfect place for businesses looking to grow and dominate in their markets.”

NEWCASTLE – Councillor Ged Bell, cabinet member for employment and culture at Newcastle City Council

Q: Despite the ongoing COVID-19 disruption, a number of key construction projects made significant progress in 2020, from The Lumen on Newcastle Helix and Hadrian’s Tower on St James Boulevard, to the appointment of Ryder as architects for the Bank House regeneration scheme on Pilgrim Street. How will you be generating interest in these projects in 2021 and ensuring that there is strong take-up as and when they reach completion?

A: “The Lumen is now almost fully let.

“Hadrian’s Tower and Bank House are both privately funded developments that will be marketed by their owners.

“The council is working with Taras Properties, who are developing parts of Pilgrim Street which, for the council, is a strategic employment site.

“It is the role of the council to promote strategic sites to prospective developers in a bid to attract capital investment into the city. We do this in a number of ways.

“For example, attendance at the international property exhibition MIPIM over several years helped successfully attract significant private sector investment into the city.

“Invest Newcastle, our inward investment agency, also works to secure capital investment, attract new businesses and create jobs across a range of strategically important and growing sectors, including life sciences, tech, digital, creative professional services and manufacturing.”

REDCAR & CLEVELAND – Councillor Mary Lanigan, leader of Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council

Q: Amid the uncertainty of COVID-19, work progressed appreciably last year on the Teesworks development, which is transforming the ex-SSI UK steelworks into a major low-carbon industrial zone. As we head into 2021, and further construction works begin, just how significant is Teesworks to the future of Redcar and Cleveland’s jobs landscape, and how important a role will it play in highlighting the area internationally as a trading hub?

A:“The potential of Teesworks as an industrial site of international significance is huge, and it has the potential to create tens of thousands of high-quality jobs for generations to come.

“Progress has been ongoing since the closure of the SSI UK steelworks in 2015, and it’s worth remembering those works were just one part of the vast 4500-acre site- the UK’s largest industrial zone.

“Progress has gathered pace in the last 12 months, during which time the site was rebranded as Teesworks. Work in that time has included:

. The start of a 12-month £393 million demolition and works plan, which will itself create 775 jobs and prepare the site for new industry

. A makeover of the site to attract international business, including a new gatehouse, as well as improvements to the Steelworks’ bridge

. Work to establish a Teesworks Skills Academy to ensure local people have the right skills to take advantage of job opportunities

“Furthermore, national and international business leaders are continuing to take significant interest, and firm plans currently being developed include:

. A world-first clean energy project to capture up to ten million tonnes of carbon emissions a year. The BP-led consortium project would create 5500 construction jobs and deliver a £450 million economic boost to the region

. A world-class manufacturing site for offshore wind, which would create 9000 jobs and support a further 1000 construction posts over eight years. The 430-acre site will be remediated and could welcome its first tenants by 2022

. The creation of a new waste-to-energy plant

. Plans for a new polyhalite fertiliser plant, with the product transported around the world

. A 1.3-kilometre £90 million quay

. A bid to make Teesside Britain’s first freeport, which would mean the area could benefit from tax reliefs, simplified customs procedures and streamlined planning processes, which would attract business from across the globe

SUNDERLAND – Councillor Graeme Miller, leader of Sunderland City Council

Q: 2020 saw the publication of the Riverside Sunderland Masterplan to create 1000 new homes and one million sq ft of offices and workspace on the banks of the River Wear. How do you expect the development to progress as we enter 2021 and what kind of opportunities will there be for local companies to win contract work on the site?

A: “Riverside Sunderland is one of, if not the most, ambitious city centre regeneration projects in the UK at this current moment in time.

“It’s a masterplan that will reinvigorate the city in a wider sense too – creating a place we can be proud to call the heart of Sunderland and creating jobs, not only through the businesses relocating to the site, but also the entire supply chain.

“Throughout the construction of The Beam – the site’s flagship office space, which has already attracted Ocado, Penshaw View and Asset55 – we have worked with local developers to bring the project to life, providing opportunities across the supply chain for regional companies such as Tolent and Desco.

“The development of City Hall, on land immediately adjacent to The Beam, has also strengthened this commitment.

“Designed by Faulkner Browns Architects and constructed by local firm Bowmer + Kirkland, the building officially topped out in August and will be home to nearly 2000 workers when it opens its doors.

“Add to that the two Grade A office buildings that are set to be constructed by global investment giant Legal & General, the development of a new housing scheme, a multi-storey car park, two pedestrian footbridges and a new city centre hotel, and we are confident 2021 will herald a new dawn for the city as we continue to deliver on our promise to develop new housing, jobs and leisure facilities to the people of Sunderland.

“But Riverside Sunderland is just the beginning.

“Sunderland is springing back to life.

“We’re seeing more and more investment flooding into the city.

“The private sector is alive to the opportunities and that is bringing about transformation at a pace not seen for decades.

“Over the next decade, Sunderland will become a ‘magnet city’. Aspirational families will move here.

“Corporates will see this as a place where they want to do business – and their people will spend money in the city centre stimulating new jobs and business growth.

“Visitors will come to enjoy our unique offer – riverside, seaside and city centre.

“We will attract people – we will reinvent the heart of Sunderland and send a message that this is the place to be.”

NORTH TYNESIDE – Councillor Bruce Pickard, Deputy Mayor of North Tyneside and North Tyneside Council cabinet member for business and economic development

Q: North Tyneside Council paid out more than £34 million in grant funding to local businesses last year and backed numerous campaigns to encourage residents to buy local. How will you look to build on this work moving forward and ensure that the thriving scene for independent businesses in areas such as Tynemouth, Cullercoats and Whitley Bay is sustained in 2021?

A: “The next 12 months and beyond promise to be a really exciting time for the whole of North Tyneside with our Ambition for North Tyneside strategy, which outlines how the council hopes to help shape each part of the borough and make sure it is fit for the future.

“As part of that, we’re also continuing apace with our Ambition for North Shields and will finalise the North Shields Town Centre and Fish Quay masterplan, aimed at transforming the town centre and riverside into an environment where people choose to live, work and spend their leisure time.

“Our town centre support will continue through our recovery plan, which includes action plans for our town centres, and we will keep working closely with local chambers of trade and businesses to keep North Tyneside a great place to live, work and visit.

“We will also be working with the North of Tyne Combined Authority to create a programme to help anyone who has recently lost their job get back into employment as quickly as possible, and we continue to support and encourage new employment opportunities and inward investment.

“A fantastic example of a business we’ve recently supported to set up a new base in North Tyneside is Verisure, based at the Quorum Business Park, which is continuing to expand.”

SOUTH TYNESIDE – Councillor Tracey Dixon, leader of South Tyneside Council

Q: South Tyneside looks set to benefit from the burgeoning offshore wind and renewable energy sector, with Port of Tyne being chosen as the manufacturing base for the world’s largest wind farm – Dogger Bank. Moving forward, how will the council look to maximise this opportunity and make sure as many of the skilled jobs being created will go to local people?

A: “The announcement by Equinor and SSE Renewables, the two companies behind the world’s biggest offshore wind farm Dogger Bank, to build a new operations and maintenance base at the Port of Tyne is great news for South Tyneside and the wider North East.

“This initial investment will lead to the creation of 200 jobs, significant private sector investment and supply chain opportunities.

“South Tyneside has a reputation for providing an unrivalled skills pool for offshore and marine roles, as well as fabrication skills, and those necessary for engineering design and innovation.

“We have a well-established joint commitment between education and business, to mould work-ready further education students and graduates by giving them ‘real-world’ experiences to guide them into their chosen field of expertise.

“We are working with the sector to upskill and develop the current workforce to meet this demand, to create strength in our proposition to attract further investment from the offshore energy sector to the borough.

“We are doing this by working with schools, further education, higher education and training providers to promote career opportunities in the sector and inform curriculum development.

“We are also working with partners, such as South Tyneside College, Jobcentre Plus and the National Careers Service, to access the pool of potential employees.

“Funding from the North East Local Enterprise Partnership has been secured to create a Manufacturing Zone within Jarrow Business Centre to support high-growth businesses in the offshore energy supply chain.

“The zone will provide affordable, high-quality manufacturing space and incubation support for high-growth potential SMEs operating in the advanced manufacturing and energy sectors in South

Tyneside, creating and sustaining employment opportunities and supporting productivity, innovation and competitiveness.

“We will continue to work with our local firms to help them to diversify into the offshore supply chain through dedicated business support (particularly to maximise export opportunities post-EU exit) and grow-on space, nurturing South Tyneside’s offshore cluster.

“We are confident this opportunity will help us bounce back from this unprecedented challenge of adapting and ensuring the future is bright.”

STOCKTON – Councillor Bob Cook, leader of Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council

Q: The council last year revealed a “once in a generation” plan to transform Stockton’s high street and surrounding area by creating a riverside park and office development that will open up the town to the River Tees. How is that blueprint progressing as we start 2021 following the effects of COVID-19, and just what sort of impact will your planned changes have on the town, its high street and its economy?

A: “Last year, we began a public consultation about the future of Stockton town centre to get an idea of the type of things the public would like to see to develop the town and high street by tackling empty shops and opening up the town to the river.

“After completing the purchase of the Castlegate Shopping Centre and the Swallow Hotel, we are now progressing with bold plans to demolish both of these buildings to make way for a riverside park and offices.

“The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has seen the decline of large high street names nationally, which only reinforces the need to enact change across our town centres to ensure they are not solely reliant on retail.

“There’s been investment in exciting projects, like the building of the Hampton by Hilton Hotel and the restoration of the Globe, which is due to open in 2021 and will pull in up to 200,000 visitors a year.

“Stockton is being taken in this new direction because shop numbers are falling and it’s these kind of experiences that will draw future generations into the town centre.

“In early 2020, the council also asked for the public’s thoughts on future opportunities of development in town centres and high streets in Billingham, Ingleby Barwick, Norton, Thornaby and Yarm. We received more than 1600 responses- all of these are helping to form exciting plans for the future for each of the borough’s towns.

“This is a continuation of the changes we have been making in recent years to transform the six town centres into places that people might choose to visit for reasons other than just shopping.”

North East Times contacted all 12 of the region’s councils for comment. The authorities represented on these pages are those that sent replies to the questions posed.

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