THE £4.5 billion contract for the proposed Hitachi train factory at Newton Aycliffe is now 99% signed and sealed, the manufacturer said yesterday, as the Government confirmed the deal would finally be rubber-stamped within a matter of weeks.
Plans for the vast factory, which is likely to create up to 700 jobs and pump millions of pounds into the regional economy, were given the initial go-ahead last March.
The final signing-off of the financial contract between the Department of Transport and Hitachi had been expected by the end of 2011. However, due to the complexity of the deal, it is now expected in the next two to three months, according to Hitachi.
“The contract is very large and complex and we are working towards finalising it within the first half of the year,” a Hitachi spokesperson said.
Chancellor George Osborne, meanwhile, talked up the huge benefits the plant will bring to the North East and wider UK economy during a trade visit to Japan yesterday.
Speaking from the carriage of a Hitachi-built high-speed bullet train in Tokyo, he confirmed that the first trains would roll off the production line in 2016, with construction likely to begin later this year or in early 2013.
He said: “I am here in Japan seeing for myself the technology that is behind the new trains that will be built in Britain.
“The opening of the new factory that will build them with the investment and jobs it will bring is good news for people in the North East and good news for people using our railways.
“It is also good news for the wider economy, and evidence of a new, more balanced economy in Britain that will help deliver sustainable growth in the years to come.”
Hitachi’s direct investment in the facility will be tens of millions of pounds, with the North-east expected to reap rich rewards from the project.
It is Hitachi’s policy to recruit locally and provide full training, and the new facility will employ at least 500 skilled workers (including R&D), with a further 200 during construction.
Hitachi also aims to provide work for many more local people in sub-supply industries – from building the factory itself, to providing parts for the trains, and will aim to source sub-suppliers locally in a way that Nissan and Toyota have done at their UK car manufacturing facilities.
Hitachi will build and maintain the new trains for the Great Western and East Coast Main Lines (serving London – Bristol – Cardiff and London – Leeds – Edinburgh respectively). With its partner John Laing, Hitachi forms the Agility Trains consortium, which will lease the trains out on a daily basis.
As well as championing Hitachi’s North East factory during his time in Japan, Mr Osborne also raised the prospect that GDP figures will show next week that the UK economy shrank in the last quarter of 2011.
He said: “I don’t know what next week’s GDP is going to be. Our independent forecaster, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), has warned us that it may well be a negative number. That was their forecast in November, but they didn’t forecast a recession.”
In its economic and fiscal outlook, published at the time of the Autumn Statement, the OBR predicted a 0.1% contraction in UK GDP in the fourth quarter of 2011, following growth in each of the first three quarters.