The leader of Northumberland County Council has outlined the central role connectivity – physical and digital – will play in the North of Tyne devolution deal.
Following the £600million deal being officially signed off by Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry, the cabinet of the new combined authority – made up of Northumberland, North Tyneside and Newcastle councils – met for the first time last week.
On the back of this, a stakeholder event took place in Newcastle on Wednesday where the vision, based around six key priorities or ‘pillars of ambition’ was set out in more detail.
Northumberland’s Coun Peter Jackson is responsible for place and productivity on the new cabinet and, reflecting on the diverse places in the North of Tyne area, said that for the authority to achieve its ambitions, ‘we must make the most of these unique assets and opportunities while addressing our challenges’.
“We have a number of priorities around place – the first is to create communities of inspiring places, homes and spaces to support more sustainable, low-carbon futures where people want to live, work and visit.
“We want to support the rural economy and to become a national, rural, scale-up exemplar and that’s a challenge from government to us to show them the way to do rural development.
“We need to enhance our flourishing tourism industry which already attracts visitors from far and wide and to explore the maximum use of our beautiful places by developing and promoting key cultural and tourism assets.
“We need to increase the rate of home-building and raise the quality of homes we have to offer in line with our three local plans and that’s about creating housing that people actually need.
“We all know the private sector develops for a certain market, but there are those within our communities who are excluded so we have a specific ask to create extra-care and supported housing for those who need it and a new wave of council housing for those who can’t afford to get on the private-sector housing ladder.
“We need to champion and pioneer a low-carbon approach which delivers lower emissions and affordable warmth.
“We need to provide reliable, efficient and healthy ways to get around the area so people feel well connected to opportunities in jobs, education and skills development, including improving transport and rural connectivity.
“Finally, we need to improve our digital infrastructure. We’re already working on a £25million ask to government to improve our digital infrastructure. We already have the highest rate of digital start-ups anywhere outside of London, we need to build on that strength and put in the infrastructure to support that.
“We’re not standing still, we’re moving forward with a very clear focus on what we need to do next to bring all this life.
“The next steps include something which will make a massive difference and really open up the area to the opportunities that will be created.
“I’m talking about working up a business case to support the reopening of the Newcastle to Northumberland rail line, running right through North Tyneside to connect all parts of our area to the potential that we are just about to create.
“Our other first steps include creating the new advisory housing and land board, developing a strong vision for housing in this area and looking to secure early investment from the Government’s housing infrastructure fund.
“We’re developing the business case for further government and private-sector investment in superfast broadband and improving mobile-phone coverage in some of our rural areas.
“We’re also promoting the area as an early test-bed for the adoption and development of new digital technologies, including the North Sea Connect fibre-optic cable to Denmark.”
He added: “When it comes to our place vision, we have a simple proposition. We want to make North of Tyne a place that makes us all proud.”
Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service