Douglas Kell1

Member Article

Regional infrastructure issues must be addressed

It’s not a sexy word, infrastructure, but it’s vitally good for us all as individuals, and for our region’s
prosperity and competitiveness. Infrastructure benefits businesses, spurs inward investment,
improves travel, provides energy and water reliably. It enhances environment.

While our region is repeatedly announced as getting new investment, this often proves repetition of
some previous award, wrapped in political spin. Our previous government said it was providing new
motorway – a mere repeat and for Yorkshire, it turned out. This Government’s claimed improvement
for Tyne and Wear Metro is repetition.

The most significant recent completion, a dualled Tyne Tunnel, was brilliant. Then improvements
due to accompany on the busy tunnel’s A19 approaches were scaled down. So jams build there
instead. While Chancellor Osborne recently unlocked around £5bn to initiate some three dozen
projects throughout the UK, the North East got just £1.2m.

Good news, since, has been the approval for an “iconic” bridge over the Wear in the heart of
Sunderland, and for a bypass north of Morpeth to South East Northumberland. These two projects
together represent £147.7m, of which the Government is providing £103.7m.

The Wear road bridge, 600ft tall at its highest – thus the tallest in England and Wales - will
better connect Sunderland north and south between Wessington and Pallion. It will better link
Sunderland’s reviving port and the A19, and help traffic flows when the so called “Vaux” site is
redeveloped, adding more shops, leisure and homes to the city centre.

It will free land for homes and businesses, and could create 6,000 jobs – beneficial infrastructure,
surely, and coming not a moment too soon. Recession and its aftermath have hit the North East
hardest. A 28% fall in this region’s construction work between 2008 and 2010 was more than double
the fall elsewhere. New orders during 2011 were 41% down year on year at one point.

Without the Sunderland and Morpeth improvements a further 10% fall had threatened. Some 20%
of the “civils” workforce had already lost their jobs. Apprentices couldn’t be taken on because not
enough work existed to mentor them on.

So we must ensure North East firms and North East workers are involved extensively on the bridge
and the roundabout now. We must also look at underfunding for the North East in the recently
announced Schools Refurbishment Projects. Out of more than £500m allocated, little more than 1m
(0.2%) looks to be coming to schools of our region.

Yet the Government knows and accepts that every £1 invested in infrastructure can earn up to £4 in
return. That’s why we must press, not only for school improvements, but also road upgrades such as
part of the often jammed-Western bypass at Gateshead - now the nation’s third busiest stretch - and
dualling of the A1 from Morpeth to the Border to minimise horrendous accidents.

Work on Sunderland’s bridge should start next October, the Morpeth roundabout in February 2014.

There are more cases to be pursued before then.

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Douglas Kell .

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