Teesside can boom again says new Heseltine report

Symbol of Teesside, the Transporter Bridge in Middlesbrough.

Another week, and so comes another report from Michael Heseltine outlining how another neglected region of the UK can boom again given the right development and growth plans. This time it’s the Tees Valley that’s been put under the ‘Hezza-scope’, an area where thousands of jobs were lost when Redcar's steelworks closed, but one that can become a "bustling powerhouse of economic activity", according to the former deputy PM.

Around 3,000 direct and indirect jobs were lost after the SSI steel plant closed in October last year. The new 90-page report, Tees Valley: Opportunity Unlimited, by Lord Heseltine proposes a range of measures to revitalise the Tees Valley including a new development corporation, wide scale urban regeneration, transport infrastructure improvements, housebuilding, investment in low carbon energy as well as plans to increase tourism.

Heseltine "surprised" by Teesside

Lord Heseltine was invited by Sajid Javid, secretary of state for the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, to write the report to support inward investment in the Tees Valley, and to look at the SSI site following its closure. Heseltine said that he had been surprised by the time he’d spent on Teesside, an area he didn’t know that well. 

“I have been fascinated by the few months I have spent visiting and thinking about the Tees Valley,” he said. So much so that the conclusions contained in his report went way beyond his original remit. “I make no apology for indulging in mission creep,” he said. “It is the only way I can adequately salute and praise the transformation that is taking place in the Tees Valley. These changes will be accelerated by the recent creation of the new Combined Authority in April 2016 and the enhanced leadership of a directly elected Mayor next April.”

Speaking to Infrastructure Intelligence, Redcar and Cleveland Council leader, Sue Jeffrey, who chaired the Tees Valley combined authority when Heseltine was compiling his report, said: “We’ve had quite an interesting six months working with Lord Heseltine I think it’s fair to say. He’s looked at the Tees Valley with an external set of eyes and with his understanding and knowledge of regeneration taken from a number of places, including Liverpool and London and he’s written a constructive report.

"Lord Heseltine is saying very clearly to givernment that they need to put additional support and resources into the Tees Valley to enable it to realise the potential it has to deliver the government's economic growth objectives."

- Sue Jeffrey, leader of Redcar and Cleveland Council

“He has recognised that the area has a lot of talented people working really hard, we have got some good plans to come and we now need support to deliver on those plans. Although this is an independent report, he is saying very clearly to government that they need to put additional support and resources into the Tees Valley to enable it to realise the potential it has to deliver the government’s economic growth objectives,” Jeffrey told me.

Transport key to future development

Jeffrey also said that she hoped that the report’s recommendations on transport infrastructure would help the region secure investment in that area too. “Although all the transport recommendations in the report had already been identified as priorities for the area, the purpose of this report I think will enable us to say to government and Transport for the North that these are our priorities and we think they should be funded but we also now have the extra weight of this report written by Michael Heseltine and we hope this will help us put our plans further up the political agenda,” Jeffrey said.

Those transport plans include: -

  • Asking Highways England to seriously investigate providing a new strategic road Tees Crossing as part of the existing scope of the A19 Norton-Wynyard widening scheme already planned;
  • Encouraging Highways England and Transport for the North to take account of the emerging improvements to east-west connectivity on the A66 east of the A1(M) being developed by the Tees Valley Combined Authority, as part of the wider North Trans-Pennine Routes study. Also, to seriously investigate the preferred option(s) from the east-west connectivity work within the recommended programme for trans-Pennine improvements to provide a holistic solution for the A66 through to Teesport.
  • Calling on the Department for Transport to seriously investigate the inclusion of the Northallerton to Teesport Electrification rail scheme as an extension of the Transpennine electrification scheme already committed.
  • Encouraging Network Rail and Transport for the North to recognise the strategic importance of Darlington Station as the key rail gateway for the Tees Valley – at the heart of a commercial regeneration scheme - and to investigate the need for the station redevelopment to be included in the Network Rail and Transport for the North programmes for the period 2019-2024, which Tees Valley propose will allow train services in HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail to operate, maximising the growth opportunity afforded by the transformational rail packages.
  • The Tees Valley Combined Authority working with the owners and operators of the Tees Valley Airport to agree a sustainable future for the wider airport site, including the station, and build this into their wider proposals for their economic development.

Heseltine also said that he wanted to see more apprenticeships created, more starter homes built and a change in the industrial identity of Teesside to try to attract more tourists. “The new combined authority can stamp its own imprint, break out from the shadow of Newcastle, exploit its past, secure the interconnectivity of transport infrastructure, establish Darlington as its gateway and add an escalating range of new industries to those on which its past depended,” said Lord Heseltine.

Not all local leaders welcomed the report however. Middlesbrough Labour MP Andy McDonald said that the report "doesn't add anything or take us forward by one jot. We have got the industrial answers if only the secretaries of state and the prime minster would listen,” he said.

A new development corporation

Lord Heseltine’s recommendation of the creation of a new development corporation for the Tees Valley will sir memories for many locals of when Teesside had a taxpayer-funded development corporation from 1987 until 1998. Its launch by Margaret Thatcher was the site of her apocryphal “Walk in the Wilderness” picture, when she was photographed walking through a post-industrial wasteland on the banks of the River Tees.

When the corporation was disbanded, it claimed to have created thousands of jobs, developed huge areas of derelict land and brought in millions of pounds of investment. However, others claim that it sucked investment and funding away from Middlesbrough to out-of-town shopping centres and business parks and that another such corporation would be in danger of doing so again with the former Redcar steelworks site.

Commenting on the report, Marc Davies, head of environment at WYG and chair of ACE Northern Region, said: “It is positive that Lord Heseltine has focussed on Teesside, and the need for investment particularly in transport infrastructure. Whilst most of the schemes referenced have already been proposed, they are a long way from being built and so keeping the spotlight on these for central government and Transport for the North, who are developing their Northern Transport Strategy, helps. 

“It is also important because the Northern Powerhouse is about more than just Manchester and Leeds and the other core cities. As the IPPR North report on city systems, published today, reports, small and medium sized cities and towns make up about a third of the economy of the North and so to neglect them would severely weaken the potential for the Northern Powerhouse to become a reality.”

While the report claims that there is money available to kick-start projects in the Tees Valley, Heseltine’s and local political leaders’ hope is that the private sector will follow on and invest. “There are investment pots available for road and rail development from the government and this report will help push the Tees Valley up the list so we are well positioned for the next investment round,” said Jeffrey. “I am hopeful that we will secure feasibility study funding for our key transport plans sooner rather than later and they are certainly on the agenda with Transport for the North. In the general scheme of things our plans are quite small and could be delivered quite quickly,” she said.

"I am hopeful that we will secure feasibility study funding for our key transport plans sooner rather than later and they are certainly on the agenda with Transport for the North."

- Sue Jeffrey, leader of Redcar and Cleveland Council

The former SSI steelworks site is set to become part of a new South Tees Mayoral Development Corporation, as part of the region’s devolution deal with the government which will include the election of a mayor for the Tees Valley combined authority (covering Darlington, Middlesbrough, Redcar & Cleveland, Stockton and Hartlepool) in May 2017.

A shadow board for the development corporation is already in place, which is being chaired by Jeffrey. “The purpose of the mayoral development corporation is to regenerate the former SSI site plus the additional land all the way down the south bank of the Tees,” said Jeffrey. “This is a four and a half mile stretch which includes the port and the former Tata Steel works,” she said. 

An interesting, inclusive and supportive approach

The task going forward will be for the Tees Valley to secure sufficient funds, from the government and then the private sector, to deliver the undoubtedly ambitious plans outlined in the Heseltine report. Sue Jeffrey said she was hopeful of success. “It was an interesting process working with Lord Heseltine. He brought some thoughts and ideas to bear that I wouldn’t have necessarily have come up with and he was very inclusive and didn’t come and tell us what to do. He came to look and was very supportive of what we are trying to do. He was a catalyst and brought some interesting ideas to the table,” Jeffrey said.

Amidst all the attention being grabbed by George Osborne's Northern Powerhouse initiative, the sub-regions of the north like Teesside can be overlooked as the focus tends to be on the major city conurbations of Greater Manchester and Yorkshire. Time will tell whether Jeffrey's and Heseltine's optimism about the Tees Valley is well placed and whether the peer's vision of a Teesside powerhouse will come to fruition.

Download the Tees Valley: Opportunity Unlimited report here.

If you would like to contact Andy Walker about this, or any other story, please email awalker@infrastructure-intelligence.com.