North East Devolution and Levelling Up
Penshaw Monument

Mayor cautious over North East investment zones

North of Tyne Mayor Jamie Driscoll has criticised the investment zones announced by Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng yesterday and about which the North of Tyne Combined Authority (NCTA) which he heads is in ‘early discussions’.

Investment zones, where the government hopes to boost economic growth and house building through tax breaks and planning liberalisation – as reported here yesterday – are in the early stages of discussion with 38 authorities around England, including NTCA.

In addition, six potential sites in the region have been identified in the government’s Growth Plan in Sunderland and Tees Valley.

Mayor Driscoll told the Local Democracy Reporting Service, as reported in ChronicleLive today, that he feared the zones could simply displace jobs from one area to another. He also said: “This can’t bring in anything about reducing workers’ rights or environmental legislation. I would hope that nobody wants to see that.’

According to the mayor NTCA has not expressed a formal interest in becoming an investment zone but has simply been asked if the authority would be interested in holding talks which he has confirmed in a discussion with Levelling Up Secretary Simon Clarke.

Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen has welcomed the proposed investment zones for his area with his customary enthusiasm . He told TeessideLive: ‘These investment zones will be gamechangers for Teesside, creating high-wage jobs, securing millions of pounds of investment, and rejuvenating town centres in Middlesbrough and Hartlepool to ones we can be proud of.’

The government has said that investment zones will only be chosen following a rapid expression of interest process open to everyone and after local consent is confirmed.

The North East England Chamber of Commerce said the Chancellor’s statement had brought some important wins for its members but added: ‘The need for levelling up of course has not gone away, despite the relatively small number of mentions in the [Growth] Plan itself.

‘If the Chancellor’s Plan is going to achieve the radical restructuring he and the government hope for, we will need more regional economic interventions, not less. This will be especially true in the areas largely absent from the Plan – skills, research and development, health and social infrastructure.’

Helen Golightly, chief executive of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (NELEP) called for more information on the Growth Plan:

‘We await further detail on the new investment zones and confirmation on which local and mayoral combined authority areas will benefit from the new hubs. We also look forward to seeing how the North East will benefit from government’s plans to speed up road, rail and energy infrastructure across the country.

‘There has been no update…on future plans around the levelling up agenda and support for our key industries to grow so we’re keen to see more information from government on those areas.’