July 16, 2008

Blueprint for North growth revealed

The winners and losers have emerged in the battle to set the North’s growth plans for the next decade as the Government publishes a groundbreaking planning document.

Some of the biggest winners are councils and employers, who will be delighted the final planning blueprint has given the green light to business park growth at North East Technology Park in Sedgefield, Newburn Riverside in Newcastle and other “key employment locations” including Cramlington, Newcastle, Durham, Darlington and Hartlepool.

While possibly the biggest losers are wind campaigners, who will be forced to accept that while planners consider the tranquillity of Northumberland as vital to the tourist economy, landscape considerations are not enough to stop a vast increase in the number of onshore wind turbines proposed.

Wind turbines, road improvements, business parks and even house prices will be influenced by the Regional Spatial Strategy, put together by the North East Assembly and now officially recognised by the Government. The planning blueprint, which sets out the areas considered best suited to either residential or business developments, will be used as the guiding force behind almost every planning decision made until 2021.

It sets targets for the amount each household should be recycling, it will force new businesses to make sure their offices are in part powered with renewable energy and opens the way for growth at the region’s airports.

The battle to open up new rail routes in the North East and improve roads is covered, with the RSS backing many schemes but only paying lip service to the seemingly essential case for dualling the A1.

And despite builders across the UK laying off staff, the RSS also calls for 7,600 homes to be built each year until 2021.

The North East Assembly managed to ensure the Government retained some transport aims, such as keeping open options on the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne rail line and stressing the need for A1 Western bypass improvements, but has seen aspirations watered down.

Despite recognising the importance of high quality routes to Scotland and the damage done to the economy by poor links to the South, the RSS does not back a fully dualled route north of Newcastle or the introduction of high speed rail. For some critics this has been taken as proof that Government rather than regional interests underpin the final version.

Business leaders and politicians last night said the time had come to build on almost six years of RSS consultation.

North East Chamber of Commerce chief executive James Ramsbotham said: “There is much to applaud in the document – not least the fact that it explicitly prioritises the A1 Western bypass, although, as is always the case with documents of this kind, there are gaps between recognising action is needed and finding the funding to reach that goal.”

Minister for the North East, Nick Brown, said: “We have a plan which will help the region to grow and prosper in the years ahead and what we need now is for all partners to work effectively with us to meet the challenge of delivering it.”

North East Assembly chair Alex Watson said the work was the result of long consultation to ensure disagreements were ironed out before yesterday’s final version was published.

“We began the plan’s preparation over five years ago and from the beginning have ensured full participation of councillors in the region, alongside representatives of economic, social and environmental groups,” he said.

“We are delighted that the Government has endorsed our shared vision for the North East and the main themes of a stronger economy, sustainable communities, a better environment and improved communications remain at the heart of the strategy.”


BUSINESS leaders will have plenty to be delighted with in the final RSS.

The document has identified priority areas for development which will open up the way for large regeneration projects and could bring thousands of jobs to the region. Key employment locations include Newcastle Great Park and the NorthEast Technology Park in Sedgefield. The RSS also opens the way for employment opportunities at Heighington Lane West and Seaham. And a previous RSS line which said the North East was a good place to do business because the workers are low paid has been removed.


REGIONAL planners yesterday saw the final process in a strategy which took almost six years to finish.

In 2002, the Government first indicated the North East Assembly should prepare a Regional Spatial Strategy and since then it has bounced back between the two in many different drafts.

Along the way the planners at both Whitehall and the NEA have managed to upset a lot of powerful groups. The RSS was put up for an Examination in Public a year after the first version was written in 2005, and by then there were plenty of parties concerned they were being short-changed by NEA planners.

Businesses and politicians criticised the RSS for threatening to limit Sedgefield’s NETpark’s growth in order to divert resources to the “economic powerhouses” of Tyneside and Teesside. At one point, Durham County Council even threatened to pull out of the assembly as a protest at the “city-biased” RSS. The final document has allowed the park to expand. But a draft version in July last year added to the problems by proposing to halt schemes which had already had millions spent on them. Faverdale Reserve in Darlington, and Heighington Lane West Industrial Estate, near Newton Aycliffe, have since been safeguarded and included in the final version.


MINISTERS have approved thousands of new homes in the region, but fears remain that rural areas could remain unaffordable for local people.

A new development plan has called for 128,900 new homes – some 7,600 a year – to be built by 2021 with a better mix of housing from executive to affordable to meet changing needs.

But developments are focused on urban areas, sparking fears that housebuilding in rural areas will be limited.

Tynedale has been allocated a few hundred homes up to 2021, compared to thousands in Newcastle.

Hexham MP Peter Atkinson said: “The housing allocations for many parts of Northumberland will see us limited in what we can build.

“We were never asking for a huge increase in the number of homes built, but we need an increase in the affordable housing stock so people who are from these towns and villages can afford to live there.”


NORTH East motorists could face pay-as-you-drive charges to fund transport upgrades because of limited Government funds.

The Regional Spacial Strategy running up to 2021 acknowledges the economic importance of strong transport links and the pressing need to address congestion on the A1 Western bypass.

But it warns of limited funds in the short-term and suggests development of a high-quality bus network, before the possibility of more expensive schemes in the medium to longer-term.

The strategy says Metro modernisation is needed and that the regional rail network is an under-used asset which could help cut road congestion.

It calls for protection of the Leamside line amid hopes it could be used for passenger services.

And while the comprehensive adoption of regional road pricing is not considered necessary or appropriate in the short-term, the plan says it is important to start considering its future introduction now.

Blaydon MP Dave Anderson, said: “The reality remains that without significant increases in funding, it looks as if we won’t move in the way that everybody want us to.”

by Peter Leathley

The Journal

16 July 2008

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