THE county of Northumberland covers 2,000 sq miles and is the most northerly county in England with a population of 310,000.
The majority of the county is predominantly rural in nature with large areas of moorland, hills, valleys and forests. The urban south east comprises only a small percentage of the land area, but accommodates in excess of 50% of the county population offering easy access to the Tyneside conurbation.
In recent years the employment base has changed and diversified from basic industries including agriculture, coal mining and port activity.
Today there is a diverse manufacturing sector with a strong representation of engineering, process and pharmaceutical companies including Aesica, BASF, Piramal and Merck Sharp and Dohme.
The future may 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.
Cramlington has established itself as the county’s sub-regional growth point attracting massive inward investment, primarily at the Nelson Industrial Estate and more recently at Northumberland Business Park where Gladman have developed more than 100,000 sq ft of offices alongside new hotel and leisure facilities.
There is also market activity at Ashington on the Ashwood Business Park, alongside the spine road and at the Wansbeck Business Park where GVA recently let a 36,000 sq ft industrial unit to Culpitt Ltd acting on behalf of UK Building for Business.
Elsewhere within the county the market towns including Berwick, Alnwick, Hexham and Morpeth are all served by edge-of-town business parks which have attracted new employment generating development by the private sector. Northumberland County Council, which was established as a unitary authority in 2009 – replacing the seven previous councils – is experiencing the effects of public sector cost cutting amounting to around £110m over the next four years on the back of the £50m savings achieved over the last two years – this is a significant challenge involving difficult cost cutting decisions. Hopefully the economy will improve and ensure further economic regeneration and maintain new employment opportunities across the diverse county economies.
:: Ian Parker, consultant, national markets – offices, GVA
Historic attractions are top spots for tourists
RECENT research shows that the UK's castles and palaces are the main attractions for tourists.
This is good news for Northumberland and market towns, all of which have major historic attractions.
Market towns serve local catchments, with Berwick the town for north Northumberland and Tweedside, Hexham for Tyne Valley, Morpeth for south of the county and Alnwick holding sway in the centre.
All can claim rural hinterlands as well as acting as commuter locations with sizeable, populations spawning strong high streets. But extra retail spend through tourism is the icing on the cake, bringing in valuable additional income.
Northumberland has more than 200 castles. Alnwick Castle is renowned the world over for Harry Potter, Black Adder and Walt Disney. Berwick has a number of listed properties and both Morpeth and Hexham have historic connections, the latter with the infamous Border Rievers.
As regional marketing improves these towns are bound to see increasing tourism spend. In every case each market town can be described as a strong, solid retail location.
Tesco is the latest to arrive in Berwick and Morpeth has the Sanderson Arcade – an excellent example of how a classy arcade can dovetail with an existing high street.
Hexham has style and development potential in two key areas and Alnwick is bringing forward the Gentoo development on the former garage site opposite Morrisons.
Here BNP Paribas Real Estate has let the 17,253 sq ft anchor store to Wilkinson and fashion outlet Store 21 has taken two units next to Wilkinson, facing on to Lagny Street.
With spring just around the corner, Northumberland’s market towns can look forward to a renewed enthusiasm to shop backed up by growing tides of tourists.
:: Mike Birkett, director of retail agency at BNP Paribas Real Estate