THE Tees Valley must shed its steel sector malaise and embrace a regeneration plan to help the UK become a “country that works for everyone”, Prime Minister Theresa May has claimed.
Mrs May today visited Redcar’s former SSI UK steel site to officially launch the South Tees Development Corporation (STDC), which centres upon a blueprint of creating more than 20,000 jobs on swathes of redundant land.
She told The Northern Echo people must now “look to the future” following the steel operator’s 2015 demise that left thousands redundant, and rejected claims Downing Street abandoned the area during the business’s painful final throes.
However, her visit was tonight attacked by Labour MPs Andy McDonald and Anna Turley, who fired broadsides at the Government for having “zero clue on Teesside” and leaving the SSI site a “visible symbol of its failure to save Teesside steel”.
The STDC, which is the first mayoral development corporation outside of London, was borne out of a previous devolution deal and aims to transform a 4,500-acre area, including the idle steelworks and surrounding sites, into a thriving business hub.
Mrs May, sitting in PD Ports’ harbourmaster office on the banks of the River Tees, said it was a significant sign of intent to improve the region’s economy and job environment.
She also rejected long-held claims from some critics that the region wouldn’t need such drastic action if the Government had acted with greater gumption over SSI UK.
She told the Echo: “When I first became Prime Minister, I was very clear.
“I said on the steps of Number Ten I want a country that works for everyone and that means a country where we see economic growth and prosperity and good jobs for people around the whole of the UK and that includes the Tees Valley.
“The STDC is an important part of delivering that.
“We see it as a crucial part of bringing economic growth and regeneration to the Tees Valley.
“This site has significant potential and it is about encouraging growth here, and that will be from a variety of sectors.
“The Government did put resources into supporting people who lost their jobs when SSI closed, but what is important now is that we look to the future and this site does have potential for the future.
“I would hope that people would see there are already some interesting and exciting businesses here.
“I’ve heard about PD Ports and how they have been expanding and about the various chemical sites using this area too, so we can already see the potential for jobs.
“What the STDC will do will fit in with the Government’s wider modern industrial strategy.”
However, Redcar MP Ms Turley, who last week slated a £58,000 London-based job brief to support Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen for including “occasional trips” to the region, said Mrs May’s optimism was misplaced.
Ms Turley, who says Mrs May has broken parliamentary protocol after failing to tell the MP of her constituency visit, said: “While plans and ambitions for the site are good, it seems it will be many years before jobs actually start to appear.
“Immediate help is still needed for the families suffering.
“A glossy brochure and a photo opportunity with the mayor won’t bring any comfort to these families and I invite Mrs May to visit Redcar high street and meet the real people affected by the future of the site.
“Two years on from the closure, we haven’t seen a single job created at the site to replace those lost, just a £58,000 job down in London.
“I will continue to hold their feet to the fire and the mayor needs to step up too.”
Mrs May also played down Transport Secretary Chris Grayling’s plans to scrap electrification of rail lines in the North, as well as the Midlands and Wales, to instead back a new £30bn Crossrail 2 scheme in London.
Regional industry bosses, including officials from the North East England Chamber of Commerce, have expressed their ire over what they perceive as a distressing snub, with leaders at Leeds’ Northern Transport Summit yesterday warning the Northern Powerhouse will fail unless links are drastically improved.
However, Mrs May told the Echo that the Government will spend a record £13bn on improvements across the North, which will mean the region gets upgrades that are “going to best benefit.”
Soyrce: www.thenorthernecho.co.uk, 24 August 2017