George Osborne is considering a road, rail and tax investment programme for the North East, The Journal can reveal.
Speaking exclusively to the paper, the Chancellor said he wants to look closely at road and rail links to Nissan, look at the case for the A1 north of Newcastle and offer an extension to a job creating enterprise zone in Teesside.
In a hint at what might be to come Mr Osborne made clear he wants to continue an infrastructure investment programme in the North East which as already seen cash allocated for A19 junctions and A1 Western Bypass upgrades.
Mr Osborne backed the region’s transport case in an interview with Journal guest editor Jeremy Middleton, head of investment company Middleton Enterprises.
The North East has already submitted a wishlist of major spending projects to the Local Growth Fund, while also hoping for good news in the Chancellor’s autumn statement.
These two events will make up some of the biggest opportunities the coalition Government has left if it is to announce what it hopes will be election winning ideas.
Mr Osborne made clear he wants to looks at ways to make the most of Nissan and the new automotive business park planned for land around the Wearside site.
The North East has told the Government it should back not just A19 improvements but, crucially, reopen the Leamside railway line which runs alongside the site.
The line reopening is also seen as crucial if the region is to improve rail connections to the South, with freight able to be moved on to the Leamside line, which runs from Gateshead into County Durham.
Asked what he can do to build on the good work already taking place in the region, Mr Osborne said: “We have already expanded the Enterprise Zone around Blyth, we can do more still to make sure that the Nissan success story is fully supported.
“We have to look at the infrastructure we can put in around it. There are some really great ideas here about the infrastructure we can put in around Nissan, the road links and the rail links around the plant. There are some great ideas for the North East and I’m very excited about this.”
That hint at road and rail cash ran through the Downing Street interview. Gathered in the Chancellor’s private office, Mr Osborne told Mr Middleton that the Government’s role as he saw it was to provide the conditions for business to grow.
Asked how he would strengthen the North East in the face of stronger Scotland Mr Osborne said that while the North East was well placed to benefit from improvements in the Scottish economy, more could be done.
“I suggest that the North East does well when Scotland does well and the rest of the UK does well. The North East is well located to benefit from both doing well, provided the transport links are good. Which is why I think the A1 improvements north of Newcastle are really important and that is why we are taking a really close look at that. We are very keen to see if we can take it forward.”
The Chancellor added: “I’m a great believer in the people of the North East, and their enterprise and entrepreneurship, and there are a load of fantastic growing businesses in the North East and a load of international businesses want to locate there.
“We have seen more than 50,000 jobs created over thew last four years, I think the North East has incredible potential and what we have to do is make sure it is the very best place to go for businesses, make sure the schools there are the best and that we have the right transport links.
“The role of Government is to make sure that the infrastructure improvements are there, the tax system is there and the schools are helped to achieve the best they can.”
The Chancellor’s comments come as the The North East Local Enterprise Partnership’s chief economist Mauricio Armellini sets out his vision for the region.
Writing in The Journal, he said: “The figures show that the challenges are now beginning to be met. Through attracting significant public and private investment – including one of the largest allocations of European funding in the country and a new City Deal for Sunderland and South Tyneside - the economy is harnessing opportunities for growth.”