Moves by manufacturing giants Hitachi to switch its global rail headquarters to Britain could bring massive dividends to the North East, it was said last night.
The Japanese company is moving its rail headquarters from Tokyo to London, following its decision two years ago to set up a train assembly factory at Newton Aycliffe, in County Durham.
The announcement will not have major job implications in the short term, with just a handful of people moving between the two capital cities.
But the peer who is leading a review of the North East economy said the decision could make the region a global leader in rail manufacturing.
Lord Adonis, whose economic review set out ways in which the region must change if its economy is to grow, says the move bodes well for future growth prospects at Hitachi’s £82m plant at Newton Aycliffe.
The former transport minister said: “Hitachi Rail Europe’s decision to headquarter in Britain is path-breaking. It could make County Durham one of the world’s biggest centres of rail manufacturing.”
The factory in Newton Aycliffe is due to start making trains for the Great Western and East Coast lines from spring 2016, employing at least 730 workers.
A spokesperson for the company said: “It will not directly mean we will employ more people but we will certainly focus more on the UK and winning more contracts in the UK and across Europe.
“These contracts will eventually be fulfilled in our factory in Newton Aycliffe. Once we win more contracts then we’ll be growing our workforce in the North East.”
The University of Sunderland, Hitachi Rail Europe and car parts maker Gestamp Tallent have also revived a bid for the region’s first university technical college (UTC) next to Hitachi’s new factory.
Original proposals for a UTC on Newton Aycliffe Business Park were snubbed by the Department for Education in January, but bosses are re-submitting the proposals and hope to open the college in September 2016.
The college would train up to 600 students a year, plugging a forecast regional skills gap, with 8,500 engineers expected to retire by 2016.
The fresh bid comes days after The Journal revealed Newcastle College had been given the green light to build a £5m rail academy on land between Heworth and Pelaw.
The North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) has called on Government to take a fresh look at investing in the region’s future on the back of Hitachi’s latest announcement.
The LEP’s lead for trade and productivity Gill Southern said: “This is spectacular news for the North East LEP area and comes hot on the heels of the North East leading the UK in productivity growth and having a record increase in employment.
“It reaffirms the importance of the relationship between the North East and Japan, and the role of inward investment in our economy.
“The quality of our workforce, supply chains and trading links means that we remain one of the most competitive locations in the UK and therefore in Europe, and this vote of confidence from a global giant is a huge fillip to employment, output and innovation in County Durham and the wider area.
“Hitachi’s decision reinforces the dedication of hundreds of millions of pounds by the North East LEP to skills, innovation, trade and productivity.
“The LEP was already prioritising the development of land around Hitachi as a supply chain park in the forthcoming bid to the Government’s £2bn Local Growth Fund - surely the Government must now look at this project as an essential investment in the region’s future.”
North East Chamber of Commerce director of policy Ross Smith said: “This is a signal of just how committed Hitachi are to growing their business in Europe, and therefore bodes extremely well for future growth prospects at Newton Aycliffe.
“It is a huge vote of confidence in North East manufacturing, and we need to make the most of it by attracting large parts of the supply chain into the region too, as has been achieved so successfully with Nissan.”