If we don't get our infrastructure right we risk wasting the opportunity our region has been given

Tyne Tunnel boss Rachel Turnbull says that whatever way the North East is governed our ambitions must be matched by our infrastructure

Rachel Turnbull, chief executive of TT2
Rachel Turnbull, chief executive of TT2

What sold the North East to Nissan was, in part, good infrastructure.

Can we really say this is still a deal-clinching selling point for the region, when it comes to attracting future inward investment?

Since the result of the General Election became clear, the talk of devolved powers to the regions, which started in the build-up to the referendum on Scottish independence, has escalated.

Government is pushing the Metro Mayor approach, but not everyone is keen.

One theme, which does benefit from broad, if not universal, support, is that of a single channel of information, power and influence, to ensure that the needs of the whole North East are considered and met.

This theme was embodied in different ways recently, notably by North East LEP board member and entrepreneur Jeremy Middleton in the pages of J2 and by the joint CBI and North East Chamber of Commerce report, One Front Door.

I was involved in the preparation of that latter report and my point at the time, as it is now, is that whatever approach the region takes as it embraces the need to take greater control of its own destiny, we must have the infrastructure in place to achieve our goals.

It doesn’t matter if you have one front door, or one for each of the 12 local authorities in the region’s two LEP areas; if the North East’s infrastructure is not up to the job, we will fail.

Currently, the most visible upgrade work being conducted and planned in the region is in the road networks. Tens of thousands of people see this work for themselves on a daily basis. With the A1 Western Bypass work well under way, other parts of the network are taking the strain, including the A19, and it is only thanks to the completion of the New Tyne Crossing in 2011, doubling our capacity, that this is possible.

Even that situation isn’t optimal, due to the continued need for upgrades to the Silverlink, Testo’s and Billy Mill roundabouts, which feed and are fed by the traffic through the tunnels. Thankfully, these works are now scheduled to take place.

Further north, a significant victory has been achieved with upgrades now agreed for parts of the A1 in Northumberland. However, it is important that this job is completed, so that we have stronger connections with Scotland.

North of the border, the devolution of taxation and spending powers are already ahead of our own ambitions and we need to be as well linked with Scotland as possible to receive the benefits of their success.

Our infrastructure needs go well beyond roads, however. We need to consider whether the rail network, ports, power, water and waste infrastructure are in place to serve our ambitions and those of the businesses we wish to attract to the North East.

Utility infrastructure was problematic for Hitachi Rail Europe at Newton Aycliffe, with an additional spend reaching into millions of pounds being required to provide the power needed for its state-of-the-art facility.

If we do not tackle the issue of future-proofed infrastructure that will meet the needs of expanding UK enterprises and inward investors, we risk wasting the opportunity our region is being given to embrace regeneration and growth.

  • Rachel Turnbull is Chief Executive of TT2 Limited, the company which operates the Tyne Tunnels.

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