'It'll be out with a begging bowl'

Business chiefs yesterday accused the Government of selling the region down the river by dismissing transport and development schemes central to economic growth.

Business chiefs yesterday accused the Government of selling the region down the river by dismissing transport and development schemes central to economic growth.

The North-East Chamber of Commerce (NECC) said ministers were shackling the region with a "paucity of ambition" as further details emerged of changes proposed by the Government to a development blueprint for the region.

The strategy for development up to 2020 was drawn up by the unelected regional assembly, which is the North-East's planning body, and submitted to the Government, which has now published changes it wants made.

Business leaders have raised concern over a commitment to "supporting" modernisation of Tyne and Wear Metro being changed to "investigating" it as well as a watering down of the case for a deep-sea container port at Teesport.

They are also angry ministers want the Netpark hi-tech site, in County Durham, scaled back from an expected 120 acres to 32 acres, amid other fears about development being too focused on Tyne and Wear and Tees Valley.

And concerns about the supply of employment land deterring investment appear to have been dismissed, with the Government suggesting the "relatively low cost" of labour means the region is an attractive location for business.

NECC chief executive James Ramsbotham said the regional economy was performing strongly, but the revised development strategy was made of "matchsticks" and risked pushing the North-East into reverse.

"It will cut off the green shoots of prosperity and push us back towards the dark days of a begging-bowl region asking for handouts. We cannot afford for this to happen."

The NECC also promised to lobby the Government over the "strategy for stagnation" and called on the region to fight the document in a 10-week consultation now being held.

The only bright spot, said the NECC, was provision for more homes, changed from 6,295 to 6,580 a year.

Tyne Bridge MP David Clelland said he was disappointed by the proposed change in support for the Metro, but pledged to work with other MPs to continue lobbying the Government for the necessary upgrade.

Berwick Tory parliamentary candidate Anne-Marie Trevelyan said areas outside Tyne and Wear could lose out and suggested Berwick could benefit from an "enterprise zone" that offered companies tax breaks. "It is absolutely typical of the Labour Government that they focus their attention and resources into the Labour areas to the detriment of our rural communities, particularly in Berwick and Alnwick.

"We are in grave need of commercial investment in order to create jobs for our young people so they don't have to leave."

The Government said the changes on the Metro were to ensure appropriate policy coverage, while the focus on Tyne and Wear and Tees Valley was to clarify the relationship between different areas.

A Nexus spokesman said: "Nexus and the PTA submitted a specific detailed business case for Metro re-invigoration in January, proposing £600m of investment be spread over 20 years.

"Discussions with ministers and the Department for Transport have been ongoing and positive since then. We remain confident we have a sound case supported by the whole region and that we will succeed."

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer