Durham County Council is heading into 2021 with a series of ambitious economic projects aimed at creating jobs and supporting businesses, as well as having an impact on communities…

Over the next decade, Durham County Council projects that £3.4 billion will be invested in the county, resulting in the creation of 32,000 jobs and 25,000 new homes by 2035. This is in addition to a commitment to strengthening the area’s £955 million visitor economy. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, significant progress has been made at key development sites across County Durham. County council chief executive, John Hewitt, assesses the progress that was made in 2020 and looks head to the new year.

Integra 61: A £300m mixed use employment scheme on a 205-acre site next to junction 61 of the A1(M) at Bowburn. September saw the opening of Amazon’s Fulfilment Centre as one of the UK’s largest logistics buildings – creating 1,000 jobs – along with the completion of more than £20m of infrastructure. “To get that facility and those jobs up and running, in the middle of a pandemic, is a fantastic achievement. It represents a huge opportunity to kick-start regeneration in that area, with Amazon acting as an enabler to bring other businesses to that site,” said Mr Hewitt.

Jade Business Park: A 55-acre employment site, next to the A19 at Seaham, it provides more than a million square feet of new employment space, with the potential for 2,500-plus jobs. In August, the park welcomed Japanese corporation, Sumitomo Electric Wiring Systems, as its first tenant. “To have the site ready for Sumitomo, despite the obvious difficulties created by coronavirus, was another magnificent achievement. We look forward to other incoming businesses and we

have high expectations for the site.”

Forrest Park: A £140m industrial park on a 110-acre site at Newton Aycliffe. In October, it was announced that work was under way on a KFC drive-through restaurant, and a Euro Garages petrol station with convenience store, as the first businesses to buy a plot. The ambition is that the park will provide 1.8m square feet of industrial space and create more

than 3,000 jobs over the next decade. “Again, it’s great to see progress forging ahead on such an important site and we look forward to building on that momentum.”

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Aykley Heads: Plans to create a major business park, with the potential to create thousands of jobs and boost County Durham’s economy by £400m, were approved by councillors in December.

Subject to ministerial approval, work will begin on the first phase early this year, creating 3,500 square metres of flexible office space within a three-storey building and 60 car parking spaces. “It will be one of the most prestigious business locations in the North East. Following the experiences of the pandemic, requirements may change slightly around flexible working, but the demand to accommodate high quality jobs won’t be affected.”

NETPark: Phase Three of one of the UK’s premier science parks is an £85m 26-acre expansion of the innovative site at Sedgefield, providing grow-on space for companies on the park, as well as inward investors seeking to relocate science, engineering or technology businesses. “A great example of the way the council is partnering Durham University and the

education sector, with high quality jobs at the end.”

Milburngate: A £240m 450,000 sq. ft. development on the banks of the River Wear, in Durham City, providing office, retail, leisure and residential space to let. Work on the 3.1 hectare site continued during the lockdown. “We will be working with our development partner around bringing in tenants. We are acutely aware of the impact the past year has had on retail and leisure, and there’s an expectation that people will want to get back out and use local facilities again.”

FestivalWalk: Redevelopment plans for the outdated shopping precinct in Spennymoor

town centre got under way in October following a £600,000 investment by Durham County Council. “It is part of a plan to improve the wider area, and the development work will accelerate in 2021.”

Supporting communities In October, the council agreed the County Durham Plan. It is ambitious and wide-ranging and seeks to:

• Deliver more and better jobs and sustained

economic growth.

• Provide a wide choice of high-quality

homes.

• Enhance the natural environment.

• Develop supporting infrastructure, including transport, health and educational needs.

The County Durham Plan includes more than 300 hectares of land being allocated for business and industrial development, with the potential to create 32,000 jobs. The vision also includes almost 25,000 homes being built up to 2035. John Hewitt said: “This is an ambitious and comprehensive plan that provides the backbone that will give investors the confidence to want to come to County Durham – and it starts now.” In response to the Covid recovery the council has identified £20m to help the most disadvantaged communities, and those most challenged over the last nine months, to recover. Alongside this, the council is working with its partners to help focus investment to meet the changing needs of the county’s towns and villages. Following consultation with the 14 Area Action Partnerships, the council will be identifying the first delivery plan in February ensuring the investment is delivered quickly to help get the county moving again.

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New affordable housing

Durham County Council plans to build up to 500 new homes between 2021 and 2026, with a capital investment of £75m. As well as enabling up to 500 families to access high quality but affordable homes, the plan will support the local construction industry and supply chain during the recovery period from coronavirus. John Hewitt said: “Members are very keen to ensure there are no gaps in housing provision, and we will be working closely with social housing providers on building more affordable homes. We also continue to support those who are homeless or have a housing need, particularly in these difficult times, providing emergency accommodation, carrying out daily checks on those reporting as homeless and stepping in to support those at risk of losing their home. This is a fundamental part of a wider look at how we can improve the quality of life in our communities.”

Transforming leisure

The county council plans to improve health and fitness by investing £62.8 million in transforming services across all 15 of the county’s leisure centres. Plans include replacing facilities at Seaham, Chester-le-Street and Bishop Auckland with new state-of-the-art leisure centres, as well as work to refurbish other centres and introduce an innovative programme of new classes and activities. Cllr Carl Marshall, Durham County Council’s Cabinet member for economic regeneration, said: “With this transformation programme, we hope to create more modern services which will encourage people to participate in physical activity, and improve the overall health and wellbeing of residents in the county.”

Support for local businesses

The pandemic has had a significant impact on the economy with recovery likely to take time, particularly as the potential for further lockdowns and tiered restrictions remain. Businesses have shown amazing resilience and versatility during this period with many adopting new ways of working, adapting their products or entering new markets entirely. To support businesses in meeting the challenge of recovery, Durham County Council is introducing a new £5m Business Recovery Grant. Open to businesses in all sectors located in the county and employing up to 250 people, the grant is aimed at those with a credible plan to adapt and recover but requiring financial support to implement that plan. Durham County Council will be receiving an award of £19.9m for investment into Bishop Auckland town centre following its submission into the Future High Streets Fund. Its Fund proposal for a bid of up to £50m of further investment in Bishop Auckland is also currently out for consultation and is due to be submitted by the end of January. The council is also working to maximise the value of every pound spent in County Durham. By considering the economic, social and environmental benefits for communities when awarding contracts and investing money, the council hopes to ensure every pound spent benefits as many people and businesses as possible.