Business leaders in the North East want a meeting with Communities Secretary Eric Pickles after saying that his department is consigning the region to “a future of low growth and aspiration”.
The North East Chamber of Commerce has written to Mr Pickles to raise concerns after a planning inspector’s report said that sections of the County Durham Plan relating to new jobs were too ambitious.
Chamber chief executive James Ramsbotham wants to meet Mr Pickles to discuss that judgment, saying that it “flies in the face of the Government’s desire to stimulate growth in the North”.
The chamber’s intervention will increase the pressure on the Government, coming after a number of prominent business leaders - including Metrocentre developer Sir John Hall and Institute of Directors North East chairman Graham Robb, both prominent Tory backers - publicly supported Durham County Council’s plan to grow the economy.
Yesterday council leader Simon Henig accused the Government of “turning the whole area into Beamish Museum” and said the inspector’s report undermined the Government’s much publicised talk of a “Northern powerhouse”.
The row has come at a time that Chancellor George Osborne is trying to talk up growth in the North, and threatened to undermine a pledge made yesterday to create an extra 50,000 jobs in the North East by 2020.
Mr Ramsbotham said: “By creating an ambitious plan and vision for the future, Durham County Council has made a clear statement that it is open for business; a statement that we fully support.
“The Inspector’s report, by ridiculing these ambitions, seeks to condemn the North East to a future of low growth and aspiration. This flies in the face of the Government’s desire to stimulate growth in the North and to create a more sustainable, balanced economy. It also holds little regard for the current successes of County Durham businesses, many of which are world leaders in their sectors and are making considerable investments for the future.
“The North East is currently growing productivity at a faster rate than the UK average, is the only region that consistently reports a positive balance of trade and has more people in work than ever before. County Durham businesses are playing a significant role in making this happen. However, there is much more that we can do if given the support and freedom to be ambitious in our economic plans.
“We worked closely with Durham County Council throughout the development of the CDP to ensure that businesses have had the opportunity to understand and shape the plan. We feel it contains the ambition required to drive forward growth, empower business and ensure the region delivers more for UK PLC.”
Planning inspector Harold Stephens said the council’s plan for future development in the county were “unrealistic and flawed”.
The council had said it wanted to build 31,400 homes and create thousands of jobs over the next 20 years in a bid to attract more businesses and people to the area.