Local: A new dawn for Gateshead

Sheena Ramsay, chief executive of Gateshead Council, looks back on a challenging year and tells North East Times what residents and businesses can expect from the council in 2021

 

Q: How has the landscape in Gateshead changed over the last 12 months due to COVID-19?

A: The landscape in Gateshead has changed massively over the last 12 months, as it has right across the globe.

As north easterners – one of our greatest qualities is our ability to adapt and overcome.  We’ve certainly seen that in huge amounts in 2020.

The whole Gateshead family has come together – residents, voluntary and community sector, business and public sector bodies for a common purpose – to help support one another through the crisis.

From a council perspective, out of adversity we’ve still been able to achieve amazing things.  Projects and schemes that would ordinarily be in development for months and years have taken days and weeks.  A large proportion of our workforce continues to operate from home, and we’ve adapted quickly to working in this way whilst still fulfilling our obligation to the people of Gateshead.

We have also stood up new services and reprioritised our activity at pace and shifted to a more localised response to community needs.  Something we’ll look to retain going forward.

We have also helped support business, established a support hub and administered £40m in government grants and awarded business rate holidays worth £54m.

Our aspirations remain high and we have plans to realise these, but we will need to adapt and change how we might deliver these as a result of the budget cuts we’ll need to make in 2021.

 

Q: How are you now planning for 2021 and laying the foundations for a successful post-pandemic future – will you be looking to work with central Government for necessary support and funding to achieve your goals?

A: In the urgency of responding to the immediate public health crisis of COVID-19, we have seen a phenomenal effort to adapt across the public sector organisations, together with our wider Gateshead family, in particular the way we have worked with the QE hospital.

As we begin to think about how we will rebuild and recover, in both social and economic terms, it is important to take stock and consider how a situation born out of crisis may allow us to build back in a way that plays to our strengths, not only of Gateshead but the entire north east.

This will need to be a response that provides greater resilience, insight and engages.  It is my hope that in taking this approach, we can make real progress in tackling some of the persistent social and economic challenges that we have failed to meaningfully shift over the last decade.

We recognise the need to work collaboratively to achieve our goals, so we will work closely with government to ensure Gateshead and the region is recognised for its contribution to the pandemic response, but also that we support our residents and businesses to recover from all adversity they’ve faced.

 

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 whilst 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 over 600 jobs and supporting the local supply chain with a projected £75m 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 addition of iconic developments like this, will attract even more visitors and transform their experience when they get here. 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.

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