Q: How has the landscape in Middlesbrough changed over the last 12 months due to COVID-19?
A: What a year it’s been. This time last year nobody could have predicted how turbulent 2020 would be.
COVID-19 has had an impact on so many aspects of our lives, but we haven’t stood still in Middlesbrough. Far from it in fact.
Middlesbrough is changing for the better; COVID-19 hasn’t altered our ambition.
What it has done is forced us to tweak our thinking in certain places.
Lots of energy has obviously gone into responding to the pandemic, but we haven’t lost focus on the bigger picture and our vision for the Middlesbrough area.
Our successes and big projects have sometimes been overshadowed by important news on health or the economy. But we can look back and be pleased with the progress we’ve made and look forward with a lot of optimism for 2021.
I’m certainly very upbeat and hopeful for the future.
In the space of just a few short weeks in September and October, we announced four new tenants for the Centre Square office developments.
Ambitious and bold organisations like GB Bank and Causeway are choosing Middlesbrough because of the top-class facilities we can offer and our plan for the town.
We will create a town centre that has more well-paid jobs, a better mix of housing and the best leisure opportunities for miles around.
I’ve said time and again that we will compete with bigger places like Leeds and Newcastle for jobs and investment and in 2020 I believe we started to do just that.
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: Middlesbrough Council made exciting bids to the Government in both the Towns Fund and Future High Streets Fund schemes. We’re confident we will get millions of pounds for projects that will support not only our town centre, but Middlesbrough as a whole.
It’s been clear for a long time now that town centres need to change.
High streets have been clobbered by the internet, long before COVID-19.
The best and most agile retail businesses will survive, but they need our help. The mix in Middlesbrough town centre is going to change.
Getting that mix right will ensure more cash stays in our town centre, protecting jobs and helping Middlesbrough families lead prosperous lives.
It’s correct to say support from the Government will be key.
In recent months, the council has bought Captain Cook Square. We’ll announce our plans to transform that space in the coming months.
We also now own the House of Fraser site, a key piece of land slap bang in the middle of town.
Our town centre needs more than just retail. We’re proud to be working with Thirteen to build housing in Gresham. And the oldest part of town, the area known as ‘over the border’, will be at the forefront of our new Middlesbrough.
Middlehaven will be the base for more town centre homes, very close to our brilliant Boho businesses.
2021 will see work start on Boho X and a project I’m really excited, the Camphill Village Trust’s brilliant Urban Farm. The farm will be a great place to visit and will provide jobs and opportunities in the centre of Middlesbrough.
There’s so much bubbling away. The work at Middlesbrough station will finally start, allowing direct London trains in the future.
The new Northern School of Art will open close to the bus station.
Big projects are coming to fruition and there’s lots to look forward to.
My goal is the same as it was before COVID-19 hit. We have to bring more jobs and investment to Middlesbrough to improve the lives of everyone who lives here.
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 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 69,000 sq ft.
In total, TeesAMP provides 180,000 sq 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 was another point you raised. 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 absolutely will 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.
Companies don’t need to move on, or outgrow the town. They can grow with us and be part of what we’re building.
A planning application has now been submitted for the next piece in the jigsaw, Boho X.
We’re talking about 60,000 sq ft of the ultimate office space that is 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 recently did I read a round-up of all the brilliant opportunities available in our digital sector. More than 100 jobs are up for grabs – these are vacancies for bright, ambitious people who 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.