SOME of the region’s biggest land owners have called for Nick Clegg to force through changes needed to end territorial council infighting.
A group of multi-million pound property firms have said a review of the North East economy due to be handed to the Deputy Prime Minister this spring must call on council leaders to set up a single combined authority.
The review, chaired by former Transport Secretary Lord Adonis, will set out what Government and those in the region need to do with limited resources to turn around the North East economy.
Today firms across the region say that with councils in Manchester and Leeds forming legally binding authorities, the seven North East councils must be told – or forced to – go down the same route.
Such a move could ultimately see, for example, taxpayers in Newcastle forced to take on the risk of major regeneration spending in Sunderland, and vice versa, as the days of a Tyne and Wear County Council return.
Leading those calls is Adam Serfontein, chair of the influential Developing Consensus group and head of the Hanro group responsible for a £150m property portfolio including much of the land around St James’ Park.
He warns today that unless the region copies the Greater Manchester model, the North East risks losing out to other United Kingdom cities.
In a call for a ‘Greater Newcastle’, potentially extending from Durham to Berwick, Mr Serfontein said: “We need one body responsible for bringing in inward investment in the region.
“We can argue about where it goes when we get that investment, but right now we are not winning those jobs.
“The North East Economic Review gives us a once-in-a-generation opportunity to punch above our weight and the way to do that is having one inward investment team for the region.
“If we had that single voice, we would as a region be unbeatable.”
Mr Serfontein was speaking alongside Fergus Trim, development director at Tyneside’s Quorum Business Park and Michelle Percy, heading up the Silverlink group building a four-star hotel behind Newcastle’s Central Station.
Mr Trim said “there has been a jobs vacuum” since the end of One North East and “we need councils to combine their efforts rather than competing with each other, and that is what we want to see as one of Lord Adonis’ recommendations”.
“This cannot be just another lost opportunity,” he added.
Ms Percy said the debate over councils coming together has lasted longer than many firms would have liked.”
They were speaking after Government adviser and former Newcastle Council leader Lord Shipley told peers that ministers would not be handing over extra spending powers to those councils which refused to work together.
While local authorities in the region have attempted to put aside differences recently, Lord Shipley said ministers would expect councils to be legally-bound to work together as a combined council.
In South Tyneside, council leader Iain Malcolm has been leading efforts to create a combined authority. “It’s important to stress this is not a new council,” he said. “You would have still have your local council with local councillors. We just need to work together on those bigger issues.
“Chief executives and leaders are meeting about this and I think, yes, we need to move sooner, delays will cost us, and I think it needs Government support.
“But it is something we are actively working on.”
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