BUSINESS leaders were today playing down the Government’s watering down of wording in a key regional economic blueprint. The draft strategy for development up to 2020 was drawn up by the North East Assembly, which is the planning body for the region.
But the Government has now proposed changes to the document including parts focusing on PD Ports plans to build a £300m deep sea container terminal at Teesport which has the potential to generate more than 5,000 jobs in the area.
The original draft talked of “significant opportunity” to develop Northern ports, but the Department for Communities and Local Government has downgraded this in the latest draft to “the opportunity may exist”.
Rail improvements to Teesport were previously “required” but this has now been changed to “desired”.
Martyn Pellew, PD Ports development director, said: “I think it’s a little disappointing if they have toned down the very strong recommendations coming from the region.
But he added: “The change in the Regional Spatial Strategy (RSS) draft does not make a big difference to us.”
However, he said it did illustrate “the continuous struggle we have had in persuading central government of the merit of the regional port regime”.
He added the upgrade of the rail network was not crucial to the container terminal plan although it was the best long-term solution.
“We have had whole hearted support in the region and are working hard to convince anyone else on a national basis,” he said.
The Government has also given the final go ahead for the £1.5bn expansion of a rival development in the south of England.
But Mr Pellew said this had been expected and would not deter the company from pressing ahead with their plans.
He said the Government giving the green light to a London Gateway container port as well as a commercial centre and business park on the former Shell oil refinery site at Shell Haven in the Thames Estuary in Thurrock, Essex, “clearly demonstrates” the need for additional capacity in the UK port sector.
He added: “We continue to argue heavily that should be based in both the south and north.”
The North East Chamber of Commerce, as reported yesterday by the Gazette, is up in arms over the changes to the RSS.
Malcolm Bowes, deputy chief executive of the North East Assembly, said: "We are very pleased that the North East Chamber of Commerce is taking the opportunity to respond to the Government and that they are expressing concerns about some of these changes. We would encourage other organisations to carefully consider the Government's changes and to respond during the first phase of consultation over the next ten weeks.
"The North East Assembly will be considering all the changes in detail and we certainly intend to ensure that the Regional Spatial Strategy remains an ambitious and challenging framework for the continuing development of the region.”
Andy Groves, planning and transport manager at regional development agency OneNorthEast, said: “One NorthEast fully supports the proposed Northern Gateway Container Terminal.
“We will reinforce this support of Teesport to the Government during the ten-week consultation period on the latest draft of the Regional Spatial Strategy.
“This important development will encourage and support major economic investment in the region and deliver environmental benefits by cutting lorry traffic on roads.”
Redcar and Cleveland planning committee has unanimously given outline approval to the Teesport scheme.
But the proposals could face a public inquiry - because there has been an objection from a rival - before the Government makes a ruling on the necessary Harbour Revision Order
Hutchison Ports, owner of South-east rivals Felixstowe and Harwich, strongly objected about the proposed Teesside terminal’s impact on roads and a lack of capacity on the rail network to accommodate additional freight traffic.
But Redcar and Cleveland councillors said increasing container traffic at Teesside would take pressure off clogged up South-east roads.
And Network Rail has said more capacity will be available to meet Teesport’s future needs.