Recent years have seen the employment base of South East Northumberland has changed and diversified away from basic industries, including coal mining and port activity, to deliver a diverse manufacturing sector with a strong representation of engineering, process and pharmaceutical companies.
The urban south east corner of the county comprises only a small percentage of the land area but accommodates 46% of the county’s population offering easy access and commuting options into Tyneside,
Ashington and Blyth, along with Cramlington, are the largest towns in an area where future development activity is likely to be focused on West Hartford, which can accommodate large-scale inward investment projects, and at Ashwood Business Park, North Seaton.
“The future may well lie in the expertise and major investment developing at Narec in Blyth in terms of the massive potential of the offshore wind turbine and energy technology sectors,” said Danny Cramman, head of industrial agency, GVA.
“Narec has invested over £150m to create UK’s national translational research centre for accelerating the deployment of offshore renewable energy technologies.”
At Ashington on the 95 acre Ashwood Business Park, alongside the spine road, Akzo Nobel has acquired 25 acres to build a £100m manufacturing plant which will treble the company’s North East manufacturing capacity.
The new plant, which is due to be operational later this year, is one of the largest manufacturing investments in the region in recent years. The plant will become the home of the company’s decorative paints operations.
“Bernicia, the affordable homes housing company also acquired four acres on the frontage of Ashwood Business Park where they now occupy a new 40,000sqft headquarters building,” added Mr Cramman.
“Arch Development Projects, the county’s development company, is also extremely active in the area. They are well advanced with a new £21m Community and Leisure Facility on the site of the former Asda store at Ashington. They are also delivering a mixed-use scheme at Commissioners Quay, Blyth as part of the regeneration of broader regeneration of Blyth Estuary and the town centre.”
South of Cramlington, Gladman Developments has been responsible for the construction of over 115,000 sqf. of office accommodation at Northumberland Business Park.
“This has the overall potential to accommodate up to 400,000 sq.ft.of office space. The developer has attracted a cluster of offshore companies to the park by way of a combination of lettings and sales and can offer immediately available units from 2,250 sq.ft.to 25,500 sq. ft. together with design and build property solutions,” adds Cramman.
Whilst South East Northumberland has in the past suffered job losses as a result of the decline of strategic industries, there are positive signs in terms of employment diversification, highway improvements and growth within the renewable energy and offshore sectors which should assist future economic regeneration in the area.
Richard Houghton, senior surveyor in Valuation at DTZ, says “a revolution” is now underway in Blyth with the principal focus on the Renewal Energy and Subsea Sectors.
“The port remains one of Blyth’s most valuable assets, positioned on both sides of the River Blyth and providing a deep water tidal facility, accessible in nearly all weather conditions. It has continued to reinvent itself and is now a modern Trust Port handling up to 1.5 million tonnes of cargo each year, offering bulk handling terminals, storage and distribution services,” said Mr Houghton.
“Most recently it has invested heavily in renewable energy projects which have included the Harbour Wind Farm on the East Pier and the first pilot offshore wind farm located a kilometre out to sea. It is an investment that is now paying dividends, with Blyth positioning itself at the forefront of the sector.
Blyth’s dominance is being strengthened with NAREC joining forces with Glasgow’s Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult, to form a national body that will champion offshore wind, wave and tidal energy, with the primary objective to accelerate the design, deployment and commercialisation of renewable technologies and spur overseas investment.
“What does this mean for Blyth? Quite simply a world-leading facility with an unrivalled expertise that has the potential to drive economic growth, attract inward investment and secure an exciting future for the corner stone of South East Northumberland,” says Houghton.
“As a further catalyst to this on-going activity, in 2012 the Blyth Estuary Renewable Energy Zone (BEREZ) was granted enterprise zone status. BEREZ was an initiative born out of a partnership between The Port of Blyth and Northumberland County Council with the sole purpose of promoting Blyth as a strategic location providing real opportunities for businesses seeking to serve this market.
“Development has commenced on the Commissioners Quay area, with the first phase of Blyth Workspace well underway. On completion it will provide over 30,000 sq ft of offices. The development anticipates the growth in the offshore renewable sector with the site located adjacent to NAREC, therefore ideally placed to accommodate spin-out companies or supporting sectors. The development is being delivered by Arch which has a strong vision to provide further supporting mixed-use schemes to coincide with the inward investment likely to be generated.”
Richard Houghton added: “Commissioners Quay is a clear indication of the tangible momentum in place. It is, perhaps, representative of the real growth opportunities available to Blyth, Northumberland and the North East economy as a whole.”