THE new minister for the North-East yesterday set out his priorities for getting the region moving.
Tyneside MP Nick Brown said securing high-quality services on the East Coast rail route was a key concern.
And “steady” improvement on roads, including the A1, is another priority for the new regional minister, who also voiced his support for dualling the important route.
Mr Brown praised The Journal’s campaigning over the need for improved transport links – including the Go for Jobs campaign which has highlighted how highways agency chiefs have blocked crucial developments.
“I am a very big supporter of the Newcastle Journal’s Go for Jobs campaign. The employment base of the Northern region is fundamental to its prosperity. I intend to champion that wholeheartedly across the Government,” said Mr Brown, MP for Newcastle East and Wallsend.
A deep-sea container base on Teesside is also on his list of vital schemes.
He said he wanted to look at Government papers examining the case for a new high-speed rail link, although he stressed he was focusing on schemes important to the region now and which were achievable.
A meeting to discuss the region’s needs is planned with new Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly within weeks.
The North-East Chamber of Commerce welcomed Mr Brown’s priorities, but said resources would be a challenge.
Policy director Andrew Sugden said: “In terms of transport priorities, they fit squarely with the needs of business in the North-East. So we are encouraged that Nick Brown has identified these in his role as minister for the North-East.” But he added: “Resources are always going to be the challenge when addressing priorities at a regional level.”
Berwick Liberal Democrat MP Alan Beith said: “There is a lot in his in-tray with things that just haven’t been dealt with and as someone who has always been thought of as quite close to Gordon Brown, we will be looking to Nick to get things done.”
Tyne Bridge MP David Clelland welcomed Mr Brown’s appointment, but warned that resources would be needed to tackle transport problems.
Speaking to The Journal, Mr Brown said high-quality links by air, sea, rail and road were crucial for the North-East because of its distance from London.
“That is my priority, to make sure we have proper links to Scotland, London and the South-East, to the Continent and also links between the East and West coasts are as efficient as they can be,” he said.
Mr Brown said securing the quality of East coast trains with the imminent award of the new franchise was crucial.
He also backed better roads, saying a priority would be to “ensure there is steady improvement on the road links – the A1 north and south. This is something The Journal has campaigned on for a long time.”
The minister supported dualling the route, at present mostly single carriageway between Berwick and Morpeth.
Mr Brown said he wanted to make sure the deep water project in Teesside went ahead because it would have a significant impact on the region, and promised to look into proposals for new fast rail links.
Powers could return to elected
THE future of regional government could be up for grabs amid speculation the unelected North-East assembly could be scrapped under Gordon Brown’s new administration.
Speculation grew as an influential think-tank said assemblies only had a future if they retained the confidence of elected council leaders and as Mr Brown will today outline constitutional changes to balance responsibilities among ministers, Parliament and voters.
A major review of regional development is expected within weeks. It could urge Whitehall to devolve more powers and hand councils a big role in boosting growth.
Chris Leslie, director of the New Local Government Network think-tank, said there were “big changes in the offing” but stressed council leaders had to be in the driving seat.
“Regional assemblies will have to go through a period of change and if they have got the confidence of local authorities, then they will have a future.
“But they have got to recognise that they depend on the confidence of local council leaders,” said Mr Leslie, who played a key role in Gordon Brown’s leadership campaign.
Hexham MP Peter Atkinson said there was speculation Mr Brown was “undoing John Prescott’s mess” over the assemblies, which have been accused of being toothless.
But North-East assembly chairman Alex Watson said he did not see assemblies being scrapped, but winning greater scrutiny powers, such as the right to require people to go before inquiries. Axing assemblies would result in the loss of accountability of development agency One NorthEast, he said.
Page 2: Brown intends to work with all parties
Brown intends to work with all parties
NICK BROWN has pledged to work across the political divide as well as with business and unions to champion the North-East in Whitehall.
The new minister for the region said he would be meeting his Labour colleagues, but stressed he would also be working with Berwick’s Liberal Democrat MP Alan Beith and Conservative Peter Atkinson, who represents Hexham.
He is also planning to meet the GMB union, Labour’s regional board, the chamber of commerce and major private sector employers. Meetings with the strategic health authority, the major universities and media organisations are also planned as the Tyneside MP gets to grips with his new role.
“I will be working closely with One NorthEast and the Government office for the region and that is a relationship that will develop and perhaps change over time,” said Mr Brown.
The MP also said he would develop his relationship with the unelected regional assembly.
He said: “The regional role is really exciting. It is a chance to really get things moving. The job has got real authority across Government.”