Politicians say they are determined to turn the river into a massive economic powerhouse, by maximising the potential of vital businesses already employing thousands of people and removing barriers to major new investment.
Proposals to set up new task force to lead the regeneration of the riverbank and “highlight the boldness of our economic ambitions” were approved by the North of Tyne Combined Authority (NTCA) on Tuesday, with council leaders also approving the creation of a new £500,000 fund to help rapidly develop a pipeline of new business proposals.
North Tyneside elected mayor Norma Redfearn told a NTCA cabinet meeting that the prospect of a giant influx of new jobs would offer “hope” to residents of old shipyard communities like Walker and Wallsend that have been devastated by the loss of the North East’s traditional industries.
She added: “Those people have suffered for a long, long time – second and third generations of unemployment, difficult, difficult times.
“Here is a fantastic opportunity to give hope to those people. It goes deep inside me because I work very closely with many of those people. To give them opportunities, jobs, new skills, some inner pride and some dignity about being able to care for their families, all I’m going to say is that this is excellent. Don’t let it go, please don’t let it go.”
A study into the economic potential of the river has identified measures to protect and enhance the Tyne’s status as one of the key drivers of the entire region’s economy.
They include dredging the river and removing impediments to power cables, safeguarding berths that will be “critical” to offshore renewable energy firms, and helping prepare more local residents for careers in the area’s emerging green industries.
Richard Wearmouth, deputy leader of Northumberland County Council, called Tyne “a symbol of the region’s past and fundamental to its economic future as well”.
The Conservative councillor said: “The river is a massive asset and important to all of our people. It already supports thousands of jobs and the authority has been very clear about the need to be proactive in protecting the river as an asset and unlocking its potential for the future.”
He added: “We want to be bold, ambitious and tenacious. We can’t and won’t ignore the potential we have on the Tyne to be part of this huge revolution that is going on with the offshore industry, particularly with offshore wind.”
Earlier this year, the old Swan Hunter shipyard was sold to Shepherd Offshore, more than a decade after the historic Wallsend shipbuilder’s cranes disappeared from the Tyneside skyline.
The Port of Tyne was also chosen in 2020 to become the maintenance base for the world’s biggest offshorewind farm, Dogger Bank, with Norwegian firm Equinor creating hundreds of jobs/
Newcastle City Council has also launched a bid to the government’s Levelling Up Fund to help pay for a £20m project to dredge the river, allowing large ships to continue to sail up it, and establish a new employment site next to the Neptune Energy Park in Walker.