Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said the Sunderland and South Tyneside city deal was “a huge thumbs up” for the region after many tough years.
The Liberal Democrat leader announced £5m of funding to back a new automotive business park at the site, as reported in yesterday’s Journal.
It was far less than the £25m initially hoped for, but on a visit to the city’s Nissan plant yesterday, Mr Clegg said no more government money will go towards the city deal.
“I think the city deal is one that we’ve all agreed now,” said Clegg. “The £5m is for the very early stages of the manufacturing park and that’s what everyone accepts is only a start.
“We need to get the ball rolling and make sure the manufacturing park is actually built.”
Mr Clegg was speaking after being given a tour of the Sunderland factory and doing a Q&A with some of its apprentices.
As expected, he pledged more than £80m for a new bridge over the river Wear, as well as redevelopments to the former Vaux brewery site.
The councils’s original plan was to use tax revenue from the business park to regenerate parts of the city centre, but this was blocked by treasury officials.
The Deputy Prime Minister called the city deal “a huge thumbs up for Sunderland and South Tyneside”.
“This is an area which has been through lots of difficulties over the years. It’s time to say look, here’s something positive for the future,” he said.
“I think this will help with the longterm problem of the north south divide.
“We need to make sure that the economic situation in Sunderland and South Tyneside is not in the hands of officials dishing out hand outs from Whitehall, it’s actually in the hands of local people.
I think this is a great, optimistic vision which will allow Sunderland and South Tyneside to stand on its own two feet more in the future.”
The park is expected to be completed by 2027, creating 5,200 new manufacturing jobs, with more than 500 new positions being created every year from 2018.
However, Mr Clegg admitted that there is still lots to do to help the North East’s financial position.
“I think there’s lots of things we can do,” he said. “There are things we’re doing already particularly for youngsters who are out of work.
“We’ve hugely expanded the number of apprenticeships which are available, we’ve funded about a quarter of a million work experience placements for youngsters, we’ve offered employers here in the North East money to take on young people when they got places to fill. Youth unemployment is lower than it was when we came into office but we need to take it further still.
“I think the fact that everyone is pointing in the same direction now is a very important sign that we can move along fast and get the city centre redeveloped so that people can see things are happening.”