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Investing in infrastructure key for North East’s economic recovery

By Darren Laybourn, Director and Regional Strategic Lead at Turner & Townsend, and North East LEP Business Growth Board member.

Manchester’s skyline is often used to illustrate how well the economy is performing in the North West. The sight of tower cranes and new buildings appearing across the city suggests a high level of confidence from inward investors, and a vibrant, growing business community.

The construction industry can be a good indicator of a region’s economic health, which is why there has been so much focus on infrastructure and building back better from the coronavirus pandemic.

During the first national lockdown, the construction sector was one of the few areas of industry able to fully continue working. Government further bolstered the sector by investing millions of pounds in supporting infrastructure projects across the UK, including here in the North East, through the Getting Building Fund.

A booming construction sector gives confidence to the business community, particularly startups and SMEs. It encourages businesses to continue to invest in staff, which is vital in helping retain skills and talent in the region.

The UK’s exit from the EU has brought about new labour regulations that if not managed correctly, may result in a shortage of skills in some areas of the country. At a time when we’re looking to recover quickly from the coronavirus pandemic, it’s important we don’t develop a regional cold spot in terms of skills and labour.

The construction industry in the UK accounts for 10% of total UK employment – approximately three million jobs.* It also supports a wider ecosystem including delivery partners, supply chains – even coffee shops that serve workers on their lunch breaks. And it doesn’t stop there. The construction industry is the catalyst for creating new jobs in the longer term too, be that through new office spaces, business parks, enterprise zones, etc.

Cities like Manchester, and Leeds have gained the confidence of investors and the business community. That’s reflected in the amount of investment in new infrastructure projects across both destinations. If we’re going to compete with that we must maintain a good base of capital projects in the region and build back from the coronavirus pandemic.

There are already some fantastic examples of regeneration in North East England. Newcastle Helix has helped grow the region’s health and life science sector by creating an environment where academia and business can collaborate and drive forward innovations in data science, urban science and life science.

In Newcastle upon Tyne, work is beginning at pace on the transformation of East Pilgrim Street. The £100m project will introduce new offices, bars, restaurants, car parks, and housing in the city centre. The first phase of the project will see the creation of a new landmark, 14-storey, Grade A office building.

Across the river in Gateshead, the £290m NewcastleGateshead Quays regeneration scheme is expected to create around 2,000 new jobs in the North East and provide a £60m annual boost to the local economy.

Projects of this scale and ambition have increased confidence in the North East, resulting in more inward investment and more job creation, which maintains and, in some cases, grows those important skills.

The focus of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership on investment and infrastructure is at the heart of the region’s Strategic Economic Plan. Moving forward, we need to continue the successful delivery of funding programmes in the North East – including the Local Growth Fund. We also need to develop a regional project pipeline and support SMEs in the North East to bid for local work.

Earlier this year the North East COVID-19 Economic Response Group – which comprises the North East LEP, CBI, North of Tyne and North East Combined Authorities, the region’s universities, with the support of industry – submitted its North East Recovery and Renewal Deal to government, asking for a £2.8bn investment to support the North East’s economic recovery from COVID-19.

Building infrastructure to lead transformation and encourage future investment is a key theme in the deal. It is this that will help the region bounce back from the coronavirus pandemic and support future growth and investment in the North East.

Darren Laybourn is Director and Regional Strategic Lead at Turner & Townsend, and a Business Growth Board member at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership

*(source: https://www.designingbuildings.co.uk/wiki/UK_construction_industry)

Home / Infrastructure

North East region responds to National Infrastructure Assessment

Representatives from the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, all seven local authorities and the region’s business community came together today (13 November) to discuss the future of infrastructure in the UK as part of a visit by the National Infrastructure Commission.

The organisation, which provides expert, impartial advice to government on infrastructure – is currently touring the country to discuss its recently published National Infrastructure Assessment.  The first of its kind for the UK, it analyses the UK’s long-term economic infrastructure needs, outlines a strategic vision over the next 30 years and sets out recommendations on how the identified needs should be met.

Published once a parliament, today’s event was an opportunity for the North East to provide feedback on the assessment and discuss how the recommendations will support economic prosperity in the region.

Organised by the North East LEP, attendees met with Sir John Armitt, Chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission, and Bridget Rosewell OBE, Commissioner at the National Infrastructure Commission.

Andrew Hodgson, Chair of the North East LEP said: “It’s important for us as a region to plan for the long-term recommendations in the National Infrastructure Assessment and respond to the opportunities and challenges it raises. Having the chance to discuss its impact on the North East and how it fits with our Strategic Economic Plan has been a fantastic opportunity.

“We’re keen to identify areas where the North East can take forward work to shape areas like digital connectivity, management of flooding and new transport investments, and how we can ensure the region benefits from future infrastructure funding.

“We were able to bring together key representatives from the public and private sector to learn more about the Assessment and provide feedback to Sir John and his colleagues about the region’s response to it.

“It’s great to see the National Infrastructure Commission consulting the North East on issues that will have a significant impact our region and we look forward to working with them to establish a future co-operative approach.”

The National Infrastructure Assessment puts forward a series of recommendations on six key areas; building a digital society, low cost and low carbon energy, revolutionising road transport, transport and housing for thriving city regions, reducing the risks of drought and flooding, and choosing and designing infrastructure. Government has 12 months to formally respond to the Assessment.

Sir John Armitt CBE, Chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission, said: “From the redevelopment of the Gateshead Quays to South Shields’ new transport interchange, it’s clear that councils and businesses across the North East are keeping a strong focus on improving local infrastructure for the benefit of residents.

“Our National Infrastructure Assessment – a first for the UK – has strong recommendations which, if adopted, could make a real difference for the region. In particular, our call for a truly national charging network for electric vehicles would support take-up across the country, as well as here at the home of the Nissan Leaf.

“This, and our proposals for devolving more transport funding to cities rolling out full-fibre broadband and providing more energy from low-carbon sources, would benefit the region and the country as a whole, and I hope local leaders will make the case to ministers to make them a reality.”

Held at the offices of Ward Hadaway in Newcastle, the roundtable discussion explored the opportunities and challenges of the Assessment for the region and how the North East can help take them forward.

Organisations representing the region included; the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, Nexus, Environment Agency, Newcastle International Airport, North East Combined Authority (NECA), the region’s local authorities and the newly formed North of Tyne Combined Authority.

Colin Hewitt, Partner and Head of the Commercial team at Ward Hadaway, said: “We are delighted to host this roundtable discussion. It will give us a chance to talk about the types of infrastructure the UK should be investing in and also establish a new way to think about infrastructure closer to home, with a focus on how it affects our quality of life and the success of the North East economy.”

For more information about the National Infrastructure Commission and to read the National Infrastructure Assessment, visit www.nic.org.uk.

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