OPEN FOR BUSINESS: County is “red hot for new investment”
Northumberland County Council leader Glen Sanderson at Newcastle Central Station, Image: LDRS
From the North Sea coast to “the middle of nowhere where the sheep outnumber the people”, Northumberland is open and ready for business, according to the county’s top boss.
Glen Sanderson took the reins of Northumberland County Council about a year ago, on the back of a turbulent period for the local authority.
Controversy over development company Advance Northumberland and accusations of rows with chief executive Daljit Lally were followed by the shock ousting of then leader Peter Jackson in a no-confidence vote by a margin of one.
But far from inheriting a poisoned chalice, the new man at the helm, Coun Sanderson, managed to turn lemons into lemonade, seizing majority control of the council chamber for his Conservative Party in May’s local elections and overseeing a surge of summer investment into the county.
“Northumberland is very much a county that is red hot for new investment,” he said at the council’s Morpeth HQ, currently in the middle of its own revamp.
“We know that bed and breakfasts and holiday cottages are thriving, on the coasts we know that huge amounts of tourists have come to Northumberland.
“And on the basis of what they’ve said, they will continue to come to Northumberland, because the offer has been so good and we’ve looked after them so well.”
July also saw the green light for a car battery plant in Blyth, expected to create 8,000 jobs and dwarf similar plans unveiled by Japanese car giant Nissan for its Washington factory, in Wearside.
But while the twin boom in tourism and industry has been welcome, it has also prompted awkward questions about how sustainable the growth is.
In August, fears were being raised of “ghost towns” in parts of the county, fuelled by surging demand for second homes and holiday lets left empty once the season ends and pricing established families out of the most popular areas.
For Coun Sanderson’s deputy, Richard Wearmouth, however, the issue has been at least partly overplayed.
He said: “Actually, what we tend to find in Northumberland is we have quite a lot of coverage over all parts of the season.
“Second homes and holiday homes are two different things and we want to make sure that people keep on coming here on holiday.
“We’ve taken steps to make sure people can come here in camper vans and we’ve seen a big increase in the number of static homes on caravan parks, with lots of those proposed even before Covid struck.
“Second homes are something completely different and if you go to Craster or Beadnell you’ve got people wealthy enough to afford two homes and that’s their prerogative, but we’ve got to make sure we protect local people and the sense of community that exists.”
Whatever the answer to housing issues in Northumberland, it’s a question which is unlikely to go away soon, with calls growing for a solution from campaigners in the “forgotten north” of the county.
Another headache unlikely to clear up soon is a probe into the leaking of council information in the run up to May’s local elections.
And Coun Sanderson has promised anyone found to have released things they shouldn’t have will be dealt with “exactly the same”, whether they are an elected councillor or council worker.
He added: “I don’t care for abuse of social media and I don’t care for people leaking when it’s deliberately being done to be harmful.
“It doesn’t just affect the political party, it affects the reputation of the council as a whole, of the county as a whole, and above all the workforce.”
Words: James Harrison, Local Democracy Reporter
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