North East picks up Budget crumbs

Five comparatively small schemes in the North East region (including Tees Valley) are to share in £100m from the Levelling Up Fund in a Budget announcement by Chancellor Rishi Sunak that will provide some comfort, but not much, for the northern part of the region following the weekend disappointment of missing out on hundreds of millions for transport.

The five schemes are:

  • Restoring the Grainger Market in Newcastle;
  • Building a state-of-the-art sports facility in West Denton, Newcastle;
  • Establishing the Housing Innovation and Construction Skills Academy in Sunderland;
  • Reopening the UK’s oldest road suspension bridge (the Whorlton Bridge over the River Tees); and
  • Regenerating the town centres of Yarm and Eaglescliffe.

In addition £600,000 will be allocated from the Community Ownership Fund to two projects in North Tyneside – £300,000 each for the North East Homeless Hub in North Shields and the Big Local Community Building in Whitley Bay.

Almost £690,000 will be allocated towards the regeneration of Church Lane North estate in Redcar and Cleveland from the £14 million estates regeneration share of the Brownfield Land Release Fund.

Up to £50,000 will be paid through the Restoring Your Railway ‘Ideas Fund’ to develop an early-stage proposal to reinstate passenger rail links between Darlington and Weardale.  

Other Budget announcements include £210 million funding for new Nexus trains for the Tyne and Wear Metro, but this appears to be a reannouncement, or at best a confirmation, of funding already expected.

Apart from the Nexus trains announcement, which appears to be not new, the schemes are small scale compared with the £5.7bn of funding for transport improvements in city regions with mayoral combined authorities (MCAs) announced by the Treasury at the weekend, of which Tees Valley is getting £310m but the rest of the North East nothing because its seven councils have still not agreed to a devolution deal encompassing them all.

North of Tyne Mayor Jamie Driscoll says the government has told him that £600m funding is waiting to be picked up by the North East if the seven councils will do a deal.

Separately, the seven – covering Northumberland, Tyne & Wear and County Durham – agreed at a meeting of the North East Joint Transport Committee yesterday to an ambitious bus service improvement plan for which they want £804m. from the government. But it is far from clear how much they will get. Anything less than £123m could result in cuts in services rather than improvements.

In spite of growing pressure, however, including a call this week from the Labour MP for Sunderland Central, Julie Elliott, to agree to a devolution deal, there is no sign in public at least that they are about to do so, unlike all England’s other metropolitan areas.

More than five years after the four south of Tyne councils rejected a devolution deal and the region split, the government seems determined to continue largely overlooking the North East as long as it fails to do a deal for all seven and elect a mayor to be accountable to both ministers and voters for the extra powers and funding involved.

Lucy Winskell, chair of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (NELEP) said: ‘We are disappointed that government has announced significant transport investment across the rest of the North but not in the North East, something I am working with public sector colleagues to change. It is essential to the success of our economy that the critical investment needed in our transport infrastructure is unlocked’.  

Jonathan Walker, policy director of the North East England Chamber of Commerce said: ‘The Budget had some welcome announcements for North East businesses but our wait for a long-term levelling up strategy goes on. 

‘In the near term we were pleased to see Government had listened to our campaigning on the need for support for the hospitality, arts and culture sectors as well as our regional airports which were so badly hit by the pandemic. 

‘We welcome the confirmation of funding for a number of regeneration and transport projects across the region. 

‘Similarly, many of our members will benefit from the measures announced today on business rates although they fall short on the substantial reform that is needed. 

‘However, substantial longer-term strategies like the Levelling Up White Paper, the integrated rail plan and details on how the Shared Prosperity Fund [EU funding replacement] will work, have yet to see the light of day. Without these plans it is difficult to judge how much of a long term impact the levelling up agenda will have on our economy.  

‘We would like to have seen further support for exporters as international trade is so crucial to our economy.’