Towns revitalised across the North East – that’s my aim

August 6, 2023

“Can you show me somewhere that tells the story of your mayoralty?” asked The Guardian’s Helen Pidd a couple of weeks ago. “Yes – I said. Why don’t we start with Blyth?”

The town has certainly had its fair share of highs and lows. In the first half of the twentieth century it boasted one of the largest shipbuilding yards on the North East coast.  By the 1960s its port was one of the busiest in England, shipping over 6 million tonnes of coal.

By the time I worked there as an engineer in the 1990’s there was widespread social deprivation.  A legacy of deindustrialisation from the deliberate government policy of putting all the UK’s economic eggs in the City of London basket.

That’s one side of the story.  Now Blyth is a green tech pioneer – home to the UK’s first offshore wind farm.  The renewables industry is thriving. World-class turbine testing facilities at the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult.  The new Energy Central Learning Hub partnering directly with schools to train the wind turbine engineers of the future.  The North of Tyne Combined Authority has put money into both.

What makes a town somewhere good to live is both simple and complex. Simple – because most people want a decent job, a home, a chance to learn, and something interesting or fun to do when they’re not working.  Complex – because it’s easier to destroy those things than to build them.

But build them we must.

That’s why we’re investing in Blyth. Investing big and investing small.

Investing big in infrastructure. In smaller businesses in the renewable energy supply chain. In the Northumberland Line that will bring passenger trains back into service between Ashington and Newcastle when it opens next year.  Cutting journey times and carbon emissions in half.  If you drive along South Newsham Road you can see Combined Authority money put to good use building the new Newsham station.

Investing in local businesses to help them grow. The money we put into Merit Holdings down the road in Cramlington has helped them buy a new factory and grow from 130 to 330 well paid jobs.  70 more at Cleardata on Kitty Brewster industrial estate.

JDR Cable Systems announced a £130 million subsea cable factory last year. They manufacture the cables that connect offshore wind farms to the grid. 171 local jobs already and more in the pipeline.

Investing big to give people the skills they need for a good job. Backing initiatives like Build North East to unlock hidden talents or start a career in construction, rail engineering or landscaping.  Part of the 50% increase in skills training we’ve delivered since devolution is happening in Blyth.

Investing big in housing. We’re using our Brownfield Housing Fund to clean up the site at Lyndon Walk to build 13 new independent living homes for elderly people.  It’s all affordable housing.  49 more homes on Commissioners Quay.

Investing big to help children growing up in poverty. In Newsham Primary School, families weren’t taking second hand school uniforms – parents didn’t want to seem needy. So they rebranded it as ‘recycling’ clothes as part of the school’s climate programme. Almost overnight people started taking them.

Investing small too, knowing that it doesn’t always cost a fortune to improve people’s everyday lives. Crowdfund North of Tyne raised £2,184 for Blythfest to hire street artists in their fortnight-long festival of arts and entertainment.

And investment from us encourages investment from others. A new cinema and cultural centre to be run by the award-winning Jam Jar Cinema is set to open next year.  Partnership working is what it’s all about.

In many ways Blyth is the North East in miniature. Friendly and hard-working people. A beautiful landscape, right by the sea. Good fish and chips too.

A proud industrial heritage that too often has been let down by distant politicians who’d struggle to find Blyth on a map.

Devolution – having power and money in our own hands – puts us in the driving seat.  Not just for the 40,000 people in Blyth.  But for the entire population of 2 million from Berwick to Barnard Castle.

Towns revitalised across the North East – that’s the happy ending I’m aiming for.