Blueprint for failure

A controversial blueprint for the North-East's future was yesterday branded a "plan for failure" by furious MPs as the Government ducked out of providing a clear solution.

A controversial blueprint for the North-East's future was yesterday branded a "plan for failure" by furious MPs as the Government ducked out of providing a clear solution.

North-East MPs from all the main parties attacked ministers for watering down commitments over transport, housing and employment in a development strategy - sending a clear message that an urgent rethink is needed.

Local government minister Phil Woolas said the Government shared the region's ambitions to boost prosperity and had helped achieve that.

Mr Woolas said recommendations on employment sites and housing had not yet been accepted, and recognised it was "important to listen and take note" of such strong cross-party concerns.

But the minister insisted he was "constrained" by what he could say at this stage of the development of the blueprint - currently out to public consultation - to ensure the process was fair and transparent.

His comments came despite MPs expressing alarm in a Commons debate and just a day after Tony Blair failed to offer guarantees that the mess would be resolved.

Business chiefs have expressed alarm about the level of support for the overcrowded East Coast rail line, the A1, modernisation of the Tyne and Wear Metro as well as a deep-sea container port at Teesport.

Limits on housing and employment schemes, such as the Netpark hi-tech site in County Durham, have also sparked fury. Bishop Auckland MP Helen Goodman, who secured the debate, said the document had to reflect the region's needs and aspirations.

"Despite claiming to be a document which will tackle deprivation, create a buoyant employment market and adopt a holistic approach to climate change and energy use, the detailed plans totally fail to do this," said the Labour MP.

She said County Durham was united, as the current document would put a "clamp" on thousands of new jobs, limit much-needed new homes and provide inadequate transport.

"I hope very much that the Government will not endorse this plan for failure and will look again so we can fulfil our potential," added the MP.

Hexham and Berwick MPs Peter Atkinson and Alan Beith warned Northumberland would be harmed, with families hit by rising house prices due to limits on house building and watering down of transport upgrades.

Durham North MP Kevan Jones warned the strategy would hit jobs, industry and the make-up of communities - sending house prices "through the roof" and stopping redevelopment of old mining towns.

He also hit out at the unelected regional assembly, which drew up the original strategy before it was revised by ministers, and said it should be abolished for failing to provide proper scrutiny.

Durham City MP Roberta Blackman-Woods said the strategy ending was "extremely damaging".

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