Lord Howell has praised the North East on a visit to the region he described as “desolate”.
The Conservative peer visited the North East yesterday for the first time since his controversial fracking comments earlier this year.
Lord Howell, George Osborne’s father-in-law, caused outrage when he said in the House of Lords that while parts of the South may see drilling for oil and gas as disruptive, there were “large and uninhabited and desolate areas” that could be suitable.
He added: “Certainly in part of the North East where there’s plenty of room for fracking, well away from anybody’s residence where we could conduct without any kind of threat to the rural environment.”
An attempt at an apology also backed fired, when the peer said he meant to say the North West.
Now Lord Howell has seen for himself the potential of the North East economy following an invite from the North East Chamber of Commerce. Chief executive James Ramsbotham, a friend of the Howell family, showed the peer around the region, introducing him to some of the key businesses in the area.
Last night Lord Howell said he was trying to say that areas once picked for industrial activities should be suitable for fracking.
He said: “In my remarks I was referring to areas needing reclaiming or restoring and left over from the industrial legacies of past centuries. These sorts of sites are well away from the North’s beautiful landscapes and villages.
“Official regional planning and spatial documents refer to them as derelict areas or degraded locations or even contaminated sites, and several people have contacted me from these regions saying how much they would welcome investment in new drilling in these spots to help regeneration.”
Mr Ramsbotham said it was clear the peer would take away a positive impression of the region.
He said: “The day went really well. We held several meetings and Lord Howell was clearly impressed with what he saw as the North East contribution.
“But he also saw how the region can play a part in the more strategic issues facing the UK. Lord Howell said he was in some ways misquoted from what he originally said, and he certainly never meant to criticise the North East. What he now has a better idea of is the huge potential we have here in the North East. And that included hearing about the NEvolution campaign, in which the region united in a call for a greater era of devolution. He said this was the only region he knew of that would fight its case like this.”
Lord Howell’s comments over the summer united the region in efforts to promote a more positive image, with tourism groups, MPs and businesses all insisting the North had more to offer than the peer realised.