Like our spectacular bridges, devolution should bring us together

February 11, 2024

Crossing the Tyne is one of the most stunning views from a train in this country. The view over Durham Castle and Cathedral, in the loop of the Wear, is spectacular too. As is the long, sweeping curve of the viaduct crossing the Tweed at Berwick.

Rivers define the North East’s physical geography. And in recent years, our politics too.

People on both sides of the Tyne cross it to get to work, go for a night out, see friends and family. The Metro currently has 60 stations. 36 of them north of the Tyne. 24 to the south. But politics hasn’t caught up. Until now.

The ‘North of Tyne’ was always a slightly artificial construct. A necessary first step to show local politicians that devolution brings benefits. But the North East needed more.

That’s why I fought so hard to bridge the divide and bring the South of Tyne into the new devolution accord. A bigger, better deal. The best-funded deal in England. A deal that gives the people of Sunderland, Gateshead, South Tyneside, and County Durham the same resources and opportunities that people north of the Tyne already have. And more.

Our Brownfield Housing Fund is enabling 2,133 homes to be built. Most of them are north of the Tyne, but we’ve now got an extra £17 million to spend south of the Tyne. Cleaning up industrial sites so they are fit for house-building means more homes can be built. It also reduces the pressure to develop on green belt land. New sites have already been signed off in Hebburn.

New capital investment, agreed as part of the North East devolution deal, is already coming online. My cabinet and I have signed off £3.5 million in additional funding for the Gateshead Quays International Conference Centre and associated cluster of hotels and restaurants.

£9.2 million for the Aykley Heads Innovation District in Durham, already home to existing businesses like Atom Bank, the UK’s first app-based bank.

£10.7 million to help expand NETPark in Sedgefield. A centre for science with bespoke lab space, office space and clean rooms. More good jobs and opportunities to build a career locally.

On top of the devolution deal money we have the new North East Investment Zone negotiated with government, worth £160 million over ten years. It’s designed to support growth in advanced manufacturing and green industries. And the capacity to attract 10,000 skilled jobs.

It’ll cover four sites. Blyth Energy Central and the banks of the River Tyne, to boost the offshore wind sector. The International Advanced Manufacturing Park in Washington where a battery gigafactory is already under construction. And NETPark, with high-tech and low-carbon innovation. When we talk about a Green New Deal creating good jobs, this is it, in action.

Just like the rest of the devolution deal none of this will cost local residents anything – at least not with me as Mayor. I haven’t charged a penny in council tax in five years, and if re-elected, I won’t again. But all of this funding was dependent on uniting the region in the new devolution deal.

It also proves that devolution is not Newcastle-centric. Investments and opportunities are already being spread throughout the North East, from Berwick to Sedgefield.

And with the new transport powers and funding we’ll be able to build a Total Transport Network. London-style fully integrated public transport under public control. With cross-ticketing on Metro, bus, rail and ferry. Low fares for everyone, and free travel for young people 18 and under. Every city, town and village connected by buses, the Metro and rail system, including the new Northumberland Line that opens later this year. No longer will jobs be out of reach for people who can’t afford a car. No longer will socialising cease at 6pm. It’ll also lower traffic for everyone. A real win-win.

Last week, I gave approval for Government to start the Parliamentary business of merging the North of Tyne into the new North East Combined Authority. Investment and opportunities for everyone running right across the North East.

Our rivers should not keep us apart. Like our spectacular bridges, devolution should bring us together.