North East developers urge council leaders to stop petty rows

Developing Consensus property group backs a combined authority which they believe will bring in more investment

Simon Greener Redevlopment work being carried out at the Stephenson Quarter in Newcastle
Redevlopment work being carried out at the Stephenson Quarter in Newcastle

The North East’s most influential property developers and investment lawyers have told council leaders that their rows are putting jobs at risk.

Some of the region’s most significant developers have said they need the region’s seven local authorities to agree to form a combined authority to bring in more investment.

Two property groups, Developing Consensus and G9 – which between them brought in £1.25bn to the region – said that councillors need to agree to a super council or see the region fall behind the likes of Greater Manchester or Leeds.

City leaders are currently trying to rescue plans to seek Government support to merge behind-the-scenes roles in transport and job creation. Ministers have promised that if the North East follows the Greater
Manchester example, the Government will devolve new investment powers.

A row broke out when Sunderland Council decided it wanted to halt the moves amid concerns it would hand over too much power and potentially see Newcastle benefit at the cost of other areas.

Urging leaders to put aside these differences, property developer Adam Serfontein said: “If you look at the councils in Leeds or Manchester or Birmingham they are not fighting like this – they have one point of contact for inward investment and it works.

“If we don’t do this we don’t just stay were we are, we fall back.”

He added: “The only people who acknowledge local authority boundaries are the people who work in local authorities. For businesses they are irrelevant.”

Tim Evans, a partner from legal firm Knight Frank, said that businesses in the region were clear in what they wanted from locally elected leaders.

“The main ambition has to be reduce unemployment,” he said. “The North East should not be top of the league in unemployment.”

The Developing Consensus group includes property firms such as UK Land Estates and Silverlink, responsible for some of the region’s biggest business parks.

They have written to the Government backing the proposed combined authority as an opportunity to market the region as one location for potential employers. Michelle Percy, director of Silverlink Holdings, which is masterminding the development of Newcastle’s Stephenson Quarter, said businesses in the region had put aside competition to work together, and it was time council leaders followed that example.

She said: “If you look at say Greater Manchester and its combined authority, they will have had all the same concerns, all the same behind the scenes rows, but they have put that aside and worked together quickly to take a lead. What is obvious is that they have had clear leadership.

“If you look at the population we have here, at the available land, the workforce, other cities could only wish they had that.

“We have a real chance to raise our game and come together on this.”

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