A mantra I have pushed for many years now has been that the North East doesn’t need a hand out, it needs a hand up.
This region has suffered from under investment over the past 50 years, as a mixture of Westminster-focussed politics and policy consigned us to the end of the queue for most things. It is a situation that we have come to – sadly – accept. Let’s take High Speed Rail, for example. We aren’t even at the end of the queue with that one!
Someone, somewhere decided it wasn’t worth extending it as far as Newcastle or that it could improve our commercial relationships with one of our biggest neighbouring markets if it went all the way up into Scotland.
The economic logic of improving access to, from and within the North East is well understood and was eloquently restated in a report recently published by the think tank IPPR North and backed by the North East Chamber of Commerce (NECC).
That’s of particular note because the IPPR is generally regarded as left of centre while the NECC would be regarded as at least leaning towards the conservative. A few years ago they might have been seen as strange bedfellows but in the face of alarming indifference to the plight of the North East from government, they are working together for the good of the region.
This new report draws together a variety of evidence to examine the North East’s current strengths and weaknesses as an “international gateway” to the world, and the potential it has to drive northern and national growth by enhancing business connectivity with the global marketplace.
The region is still the only one in the UK with positive export figures so you’d think that we could build on that to start tackling the highest unemployment rate in the UK.
To do that we would at least need transport and telecoms systems equal to those of our foreign and domestic competitors. The North East is home to two international airports, six ports, 10,000 miles of road, and records 14.2m rail passenger journeys a year. But we need to do much better if our economy is to grow.
The worrying news is, however, some of our existing transport infrastructure is actually under threat. The future of Durham Tees Valley Airport, for instance, is far from certain and while much government investment is going into the London Gateway deep sea container port and into Liverpool’s Atlantic Gateway, our ports don’t get a fraction of that.
It would at least address the faintly ridiculous fact that between 40 and 50% of container freight still arrives in the North via road or rail.
Alarmingly the current study on UK airports under Sir Howard Davies is almost exclusively considering London and the South East.
:: Kevan Carrick, partner at JK Property Consultants LLP, policy spokesman for RICS North East, a member of the RICS Dispute Resolution Panel and chairman of Northern Dispute Resolution