'Golden era' for Northumberland, promises Northern Powerhouse Minister on visit to Blyth
The Government’s Northern Powerhouse Minister was in Blyth to learn more about proposals for the town’s future.
Jake Berry joined the area’s new Conservative MP, Ian Levy, to take a look around the town in the wake of two funding commitments for Blyth from central government.
In his own words, Mr Berry was there ‘to have a look at some of the exciting plans they have for the redevelopment of this town’.
“We’re really proud in government to have played our part with our commitment of an up to £25million investment for the Towns Deal, but also the Future High Street Fund,” he added. “There’s some brilliant plans that we’ve been looking at today and it’s local ideas driving the future of this town.”
He added: “There is clearly a requirement for cash to support the exciting plans people have for Blyth, but part of it is working in partnership with the retailers.
“I’ve already seen today how some retailers in this town are embracing this bricks and clicks concept of a high-street shop that also sells products online and that’s really the future of retailing.
“The Government has got to play its part in making sure we can support that change so that town centres can evolve in a way that they always have.”
Money in pockets
When it was put to Mr Berry that residents need money in their pockets to support town centres and he was asked about creating jobs and prosperity in the area, he replied that investment in infrastructure was going to be a key focus, highlighting the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps’ visit to the county last week in support of the Northumberland line project – bringing back passenger rail services between south-east Northumberland and Newcastle.
“Blyth is a town with an extraordinary history but a fantastic future as well with the Green Industrial Revolution,” he added. “These green-collar jobs which are already flooding into the town are going to be highly paid, secure and they’re also hugely important for our agenda to go net zero in terms of carbon by 2050 and de-carbonise our economy more widely.”
Mr Levy said that he was pleased that Mr Berry had come into the centre of Blyth ‘to get a real feel for what the town is about and what the needs are, so the Minister can take that back to Westminster, we can work together and deliver on this’.
Last week, the county council announced that global engineering, management and development consultancy firm Mott MacDonald have been appointed to deliver a new town-centre investment strategy for Blyth town centre.
In the summer, a bid for funding from the Future High Streets Fund and a wider process to develop a Town Deal for the area will be submitted to the Government to secure investment to be used to improve access into the town centre, re-purpose empty retail units and invest in vital infrastructure.
Asked about support for other areas of the county, including rural Northumberland, Mr Berry mentioned the Borderlands deal – a £350million investment programme for the six authorities on either side of the border.
He added: “This a great time for the North East of England, this is a golden era of government investment in communities up and down Northumberland.
“People who live in this area should have a real feeling of optimism and hope for the future, because that’s exactly what we are working towards and what we are going to work together to deliver.”
Reacting to his visit, Coun Susan Dungworth, leader of the Northumberland Labour group, said: “Blyth is a great town with huge potential despite the fact the Tories have starved it of investment.
“The Conservatives have taken millions of pounds out of Blyth and destroyed our industry. Any promise for funding is welcome, but Labour will be making making sure we hold the Tories to their word to make sure this isn’t yet another empty promise.”
Putting port on world stage
Mr Berry’s visit came just a day after Mr Levy welcomed the Ports Minister Nusrat Ghani to the town for a visit to the Port of Blyth.
The pair met the Port’s CEO Martin Lawlor and Northumberland County Council leader Peter Jackson to discuss how the port can work with the council and the Government to drive investment and create jobs in the area.
The visit included a boat trip to demonstrate the daily activity of the port, a look at the dock at Sleekburn which is currently under construction and behind-the-scenes access to the Catapult renewable technologies testing facility.
“I am always amazed by how much of an impact the port and its partners have on the world stage,” said Mr Levy. “Blyth has an immense amount of potential and I was absolutely delighted to show the Ports Minister how we can make the most of that.”
Ms Ghani said: “I am delighted to have made my first visit to the Port of Blyth.
“The maritime industry is at the heart of the UK’s economy. The Port of Blyth is not only one of our key ports as a global trading nation, but also a fantastic example of the thriving offshore wind sector that is boosting renewable energy across the UK.”