Business Quarter - Reaching for the stars

An engineering company has completed a £1m contract to provide a landmark feature as part of the redevelopment of the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.

An engineering company has completed a £1m contract to provide a landmark feature as part of the redevelopment of the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.

Team Valley firm Responsive Engineering Group has been responsible for the design, manufacture and installation of the striking and enormous phosphor bronze cone of the futuristic planetarium at the heart of the £15m Time and Space Project at the Royal Observatory.

Responsive Engineering managing director Peter Bernard said: "This is a highly prestigious project that posed a number of significant technical and logistical challenges that we have successfully overcome.

"We have had previous involvement with a number of high profile architectural metalwork projects such as the Scottish Parliament, Heathrow T5 and elsewhere in London, but this project has been particularly demanding. Nevertheless, we have completed the work on time and as part of the development schedule that will see the new planetarium open early next year."

The inclined cone is one of the largest single architectural uses of bronze in the world. It comprises nearly 250, 8mm-thick individual panels welded into 18 segments to create the 32-tonne structure.

The panels were manufactured by Responsive using specialist waterjet cutting techniques and then conically rolled to shape. As well as the main cone structure, the company designed and made a special steel frame to which it is attached and was also responsible for all on-site installation and fabrication.

When complete the 116-seat planetarium will be partly underground with the building's internal dome being contained within the cone.

The company employs 95 people and recently announced a £2m investment programme to expand its subcontract engineering services.

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Ministers bestow blessing on Bede

The region received a huge boost as the Government backed a bid for its third World Heritage Site.

The twin Anglo-Saxon monastery sites of Wearmouth-Jarrow, homes of the Venerable Bede, will be the nomination for 2010 World Heritage Site status.

The Government's decision is reward for four years' work by a partnership chaired by the Bishop of Jarrow the Rt Rev John Pritchard and which includes Bede's World, Sunderland and South Tyneside councils, the 7th Century churches of St Paul's at Jarrow and St Peter's at Monkwearmouth, English Heritage and Tyne Wear Museums.

The nomination will go to Unesco's International Council on Monuments and Sites, which decides in 2010. The nomination has major implications for the region's economy, global profile and potential for cultural, tourism and educational links. Bede's World director Keith Merrin said: "This is fantastic news for the local communities around the two churches and the whole region. Already many thousands of adults and children from North-East England and all over the world visit Bede's World and the two churches each year.

"Inscription as a World Heritage Site and the work that will go on over the next four years towards that day will ensure that many more people are encouraged to visit and enjoy Wearmouth-Jarrow.

"This in turn will give a boost to the region's profile and economy as well as increased opportunities for people to have fun, learn and get involved in projects in support of the bid."

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Now let's get this show on the road

An initiative aimed at increasing the region's entrepreneurial aspirations is about to take to the road. This follows the North-East Enterprise Bond fundraising scheme exceeding its £5m target.

The goal was achieved after many individuals, businesses and councils invested in the bond - money which will be recouped in full when the bond matures in five years. Their generosity encouraged others from the public and voluntary sectors to support the charity - and the result is the equivalent of a bond to almost £7m.

Bond administrator Citylife has confirmed it is the biggest of its kind in the UK, beating bonds in London and Sheffield. Money raised from interest on the millions of pounds invested will be used to buy and run Launch Pads - mobile presentation vehicles full of hi-tech gadgets which will be used to encourage and support people in the region to start out on their own.

Bond chief executive Nikki Wilkinson has announced she is moving on to spend more time with her young family, having succeeded in guiding the bond through its crucial fundraising period.

Taking over in January will be Diane Fisher-Naylor, pictured, a native North-Easterner, who is the Arts Council England's national director of grants for the arts. She said: "My role is quite literally to get the show on the road, using our Launch Pads to take the enterprise message out to communities across the North-East."

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Dragon is hot for jobs

Up to 800 jobs could be created as the biggest non-military marine fabrication project in the UK comes to Teesside.

The Tees Alliance Group is to build a £300m state-of-the-art floating drilling platform for the oil and gas sector at Haverton Hill.

Around 500 jobs are set to be created on the back of the deal, which has been hailed as a huge boost for the area's oil and gas sector.

But this figure could rise to 800 if further work is secured at the yard.

SeaDragon Offshore, a Cayman Islands company, has chosen the Tees-based alliance group - which includes Darlington's Cleveland Bridge - for the project.

SeaDragon also has plans to build two more identical vessels with Tees Alliance Group.

It will bring one of the country's largest shipyard facilities, Haverton Hill, near Billingham, back into use.

The first rig is expected to be delivered in 2009. Once completed it will be able to drill in depths of up to 10,000ft and be used in locations around the world, including the Gulf, West Africa and the North Sea.

Stephen Baird, chairman of SeaDragon Offshore, said: "SeaDragon Offshore recognised Teesside offered the skills to create a world class vessel."

David Eason, chief executive of Tees Alliance Group, said: "It will secure major employment for locally skilled people in a field of work that has been in recession in this area during eight years. There will be a significant number of new jobs from both a direct and indirect perspective for the area, which must be good news for everybody."

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Organ pulls out all the stops

Scientists on Tyneside made global headlines with a major development which is set to revolutionise the medical world.

A team at Newcastle University has grown a tiny, three-dimensional liver, believed to be the first of its kind.

Using stem cells taken from umbilical cords, Dr Nico Forraz and Professor Colin McGuckin, from Newcastle University, made the earth-shattering breakthrough.

The two scientists also went to Houston, Texas, in the USA, where they worked with scientists at Nasa.

Using skills they learned there they were able to make tiny 3D livers which can now be used for drug and pharmaceutical testing, eradicating the need to test on animals and humans. It is seen as the first step in creating a fully artificial liver that can be used for transplants.

Dr Forraz said: "We cannot build a full-sized one yet, that will take about 10 years but this is the first important step."

He said: "Our long term aim is to manufacture in the North-East, which will create many jobs. Once we start manufacturing our customer base will be truly global."

The two scientists have now co-founded a company called ConoStem and have teamed up with the Tyneside-based Centre of Excellence for Life Sciences (CELS) to look at marketing their work. Mike Asher, chief executive officer at CELS, said: "Biotechnology is moving forward at an incredible rate. A whole range of possibilities is opening up before us.

"It's really fascinating stuff."

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5,000-job project is on track

Plans are under way to develop a multi-million pound business park near Durham, potentially creating 5,000 new jobs.

Outline planning permission has been granted by Durham City Council to establish Durham Green Business Park next to the A1 (M), junction 61, and the nearby motorway service area, at Bowburn.

Private property developer Durham Green Developments in partnership with the Bank of Scotland is leading the development.

The business park is part of a larger site identified for commercial development and potentially incorporates a rail freight terminal on the main East Coast line. Durham Green Developments owns a total of 220 hectares of land to the south-west of Bowburn, and in phase 1 of its 20-year plan there is a business park area on 14 hectares for some 39,500 sq metres of office space.

John Dickinson, planning director at RPS Planning, said: "This is a site of major significance and will boost employment."

The team working on the Durham Green Business Park project includes Bank of Scotland, Naylors Chartered Surveyors, Ryder HKS, Faber Maunsell, RPS Group plc, and Doubleday Environmental Consulting.

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Five organisations from the North-East have won National Training Awards. This year is the 20th anniversary of the awards which were set up to celebrate businesses, organisations and individuals that achieve outstanding success through training and development.

The North-East winners were:

* Rural Development Initiatives, Morpeth

* North Tyneside Council

* Sunderland City Council Adult Services - Services for Older People Division, Sunderland, in partnership with Sunderland Teaching Primary Care Trust, Sunderland

* BT Retail CS - Customer Service, Newcastle

* Nissan Motor Manufacturing (UK), Sunderland

UK Skills runs the awards on behalf of the Department for Education and Skills.

UK Skills chief executive Jacqui Henderson said: "We all benefit from a highly skilled workforce: the individuals themselves, because they are able to fulfil their potential and the organisations who have motivated, loyal and creative employees."

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Seadrill taps North skills

An oil and gas drilling contractor is creating 60 new jobs in Northumberland. Norwegian-owned Seadrill Engineering has just opened a satellite office in Eddie Ferguson House, Blyth, home of the New and Renewable Energy Centre (NaREC).

Sixteen employees will initially support the company's activities in its Aberdeen, Bergen and Stavanger offices, with job numbers forecast to rise to 60 within three years as the company looks to recruit specialist engineers from the North-East.

Seadrill Engineering has extensive contracts with major global companies such as Shell, Statoil and BP, to upgrade oil rig drilling technology, allowing the companies to tap into harder-to-reach pockets of oil and gas in the North Sea.

Regional development agency One NorthEast has backed the project with a £200,000 Selective Finance for Investment grant.

Chris Levett, left, Seadrill Engineering managing director, said: "It was a choice between Blyth and other international locations but we decided on Blyth because of its location, accessibility, the quality of these facilities at Eddie Ferguson House and the pool of resources in the North-East related to our industry."

Seadrill Engineering is the engineering arm of offshore services firm Seadrill - based in Stavanger - which has an annual turnover of £500m and 4,400 staff worldwide.

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