Tagged: railway station

Rail union protest starts in Hexham

A CAMPAIGN against possible cuts in jobs and services on the Tyne Valley railway line gets under way in Hexham on Monday.

Hexham railway station

As part of protests against about the Government’s proposals for the future of the Northern franchise, the RMT union is launching a new phase of action on the day that Northern axes a range of off-peak fares.

RMT is pointing out to passengers that the fare increases may be a taste of what’s to come under the new Northern franchises. The union has slammed the Government and Northern Rail for secretly colluding to axe the off-peak fares.

A new postcard, following on from the 10,000 cards collected in opposition to the plans under the franchise consultation, will be distributed from Monday with the public urged to press MPs to sign EDM 174, opposing the new franchise proposals, and calling for councillors and local authorities to register their opposition.

Hexham has been chosen for the first phase in the action on Monday morning, between 7am and 9am, as commuters set off to work in Newcastle.

Source –  Hexham Courant,  03 Sept 2014

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Union’s fears for Tyne Valley rail line

Railway workers mounted a protest at Hexham railway station on Tuesday against what they describe as the biggest threat to railway services since the Beeching Axe of the 1960s.

At the same time, there were angry protests at rail company Northern Rail’s decision to axe off-peak fares on the  Tyne Valley line – a decision which will hit hundreds of local commuters.

The protests have been sparked by the Department for Transport’s consultation exercise on the future of the Northern and Trans Pennine rail franchises, drawn up in conjunction with Rail North, a conglomeration of 30 Northern local authorities.

Railway workers’ union RMT say the proposals will result in fare rises, service and timetable cuts and the loss of hundreds of essential rail jobs.

They also feel passenger service and safety will be affected by the proposed introduction of driver-only operation, the sacking of train guards, conductors, station de-staffing and ticket office closures.

Union members are particularly concerned that the proposed cuts will impact on disabled, older and women passengers.

The consultation is due to end on Monday of next week.

Further fuel has been added to the fires of discontent by Northern Rail’s announcement this week that, with effect from Monday September 8, off-peak tickets can no longer be used during weekday evenings on local rail services between Hexham and Newcastle.

Customers who currently use off-peak tickets during the evening peak will either have to travel earlier or later, or buy an anytime ticket.

> Although if they get rid of all the conductors and guards, who will be checking tickets anyway ?

The rail company claims the majority of customers who travel at the evening peak time already buy season tickets or anytime fares and won’t be affected by this change.

They could also find their trains are less crowded.

Commercial director, of Northern Rail, Richard Allan, said: “The majority of customers will be unaffected by these changes, but we want to make sure that those who are know about what is happening.”

Off-peak day/duo tickets will no longer be valid on weekdays on all services between Hexham and Newcastle between 4pm and 6pm.

Regular travellers could benefit from season tickets, which can be purchased for a week, month or year, and offer significant discounts.

The changes are being made after the DfT asked Northern to look at several options to help reduce subsidy as part of its new franchise agreement.

The franchise agreement includes commitments to invest in more customer information systems, better retailing facilities and environmental initiatives, which will lead to over £6m being invested to improve facilities for customers.

However, RMT has described the move as “a savage kick in the teeth for the travelling public”.

Acting general secretary of the RMT, Mick Cash, said: “People are already struggling with the burden of low pay and austerity and the fact that this has been cooked up by the Department for Transport in collusion with the privatisation pirates from Northern Rail is a warning of what’s to come.

“Let’s not forget that the core of the Government’s future plans for Northern and TPE is to axe jobs, throw the guards off the trains and jack up fares, while capacity to meet surging rail demand in the area is left to stagnate.

“The attack on the fare-paying public has already begun.”

Source –  Hexham Courant,  20 Aug 2014

Services at region’s “little used” railway stations under threat

Rail services at around 20 of the region’s “little-used” stations are under threat, under new Government plans.

Ministers are proposing cutting the number of trains that serve 67 stops with “particularly low levels of use”, when a new contract is brought in for a private operator.

They include ten in North Yorkshire, four on Teesside, three in Tyne and Wear and a further five in Northumberland.

Some have extraordinarily few passengers, in particular the station at Teesside Airport which – notoriously – had just eight passengers last year, on only two trains each week.

Five other local stations attract fewer than ten passengers a day on average; British Steel Redcar (2.44), Battersby, North Yorkshire (4.31), Kildale, North Yorkshire (4.99), Dunston, Gateshead (5.93), Blaydon (7.59) and Ruswarp, North Yorkshire (8.07).

And the list stretches down as far as stops with nearly 10,000 passengers a year, but still small numbers each day; Marton, Middlesbrough (27.02) and Danby, North Yorkshire (27.13).

The Department for Transport (DfT) has vowed that 30-year-old ‘Pacer’ trains – condemned as “cattle trucks” by critics – will finally be replaced, as part of the new contract.

 Now the consultation for the franchise seeks support for improving the quality of the trains “at the expense of some reduction in lightly used services”.

It asks: “What are your views on giving priority to improving the quality of the Northern rolling stock at the expense of some reduction in lightly used services (e.g. fewer calls at low-use stations)?

The proposal is included in plans for the new Northern Rail and Trans-Pennine franchises, which are due to be awarded late next year and to start in February 2016.

The operators run services to Darlington, Durham City, Bishop Auckland, Chester-le-Street, Middlesbrough, Stockton, Hartlepool, Redcar, Sunderland, Newton Aycliffe, Redcar, Northallerton, York and Scarborough.

Controversially, the DfT has already warned that rail fares may have to soar to pay for the new trains, regardless of whether some services are culled at less popular stations.

> So business as usual –  fewer services costing more… to be followed by big payouts to shareholders .

Commuters in the region pay up to 60 per cent less than in other parts of the country for short journeys, according to officials.

Tom Blenkinsop, Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, pointed out that James Cook Hospital had just opened a new platform linked to Marton.

And he said: “They’re probably less used because services are few and limited. South Bank hardly has a service that stops there, so it’s a bit cheeky for Northern Rail to highlight stations it hardly services.

> It’s a good point – if there are very few services to start with, the number of users is going to be less. It’d be interesting to see what would happen if services were increased.

Teesside Airport station always  attracts headlines for its lack of use… but it only gets two trains per week.  What the hell else does anyone expect ?

“Perhaps if it increased services and improved rolling stock, it would improve the frequency of use.”

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin insisted that no decisions have yet been taken on the proposals in the document, arguing it was normal to seek views in a consultation.

Source –  Northern Echo,  26 July 2014

Berwick – call for a ban on future protest marches by far-right groups

Berwick Chamber of Trade’s chairman has led calls for a ban on future protest marches through the town by far-right groups.

 John Haswell was speaking after the Ban the Burka demonstration by the Scottish Defence League and North East Infidels on Saturday.

They shouldn’t be allowed back,” he said. “It doesn’t do our reputation any good at all. We’re a seaside tourist town and this is the last sort of thing we want our visitors to see.”

A survey he carried out before the event found 155 shops and businesses did not want the protest march coming through town.

Several businesses including Pier Red on Castlegate and The Leaping Salmon on Golden Square stayed closed, sacrificing profits to avoid the risk of potential trouble.

Terri Conway, duty manager at The Leaping Salmon, said: “It was just the chance of something happening – we closed last year when the SDL came to march, and we would close again if they came next year.

“Obviously being closed on a Saturday, when the weather was eventually so nice, hit us very hard.”

Around 40 right-wing protesters marched down Castlegate, along Walkergate to The Parade and back via Cowport to the railway station.

A 100-strong counter-demonstration organised by Berwick Trades Union Council took place on Marygate at the same time.

Phil Thompson, secretary of Berwick TUC, said: “It is vital that we continue to organise, to unite, to make sure they are not allowed to spread their racist and Islamophobic hatred and violence in our community.”

One 39-year-old man, from within the SDL march, was arrested for disorderly conduct and summonsed to appear at court.

Northumberland Police Chief Superintendent Gordon Milward said: “Our aim was to facilitate the marches peacefully and with minimal disruption caused to local people. I think we achieved that, with events on the day passing safely and without any disorder.

Police received widespread praise for their handling of the event, despite continued concerns about the cost of the policing operation.

Mr Haswell said: “It was extremely well policed. Senior officers had assured me beforehand they would handle it and that turned out to be the case.”

Ch Supt Millward said: “My staff on the ground received considerable positive comment from those who were working in or visiting the town. The people who took part in the marches worked constructively with my officers and I’d like to thank the people of Berwick for their patience and cooperation throughout Saturday.”

Source –  Berwick Advertiser, 10 July 2014

North East England: Britain’s Detroit?

Until seven years ago, there was a secret room at Darlington station. Just off one of the platforms, between the standard-class waiting room and a cleaners’ storeroom, and set back behind three successive doors, it was small and plain: a desk, a grimy extractor fan and two windows made opaque to passing travellers by reflective material.

Tony Blair used this room when he was prime minister. His constituency, Sedgefield in County Durham, was a short drive away. When he needed to get to London, 260 miles south, he and his entourage would often catch the fast Darlington train, which can take less than two and a half hours.

More usefully still, many other key New Labour figures took the same line, among them Peter Mandelson, Alan Milburn and David Miliband. Altogether, the north-east of England, which contains about a 25th of the UK population, was represented by “a third of Blair’s first cabinet“, noted the veteran anatomist of British power networks, Anthony Sampson, in 2004. (Sampson was himself born in County Durham.) Rarely before had our remotest and often poorest region been such a hub of political influence.

> Of course it could be argued that their only real interest in the region was that it provided safe Labour seats – Mandelson got elected in Hartlepool ! Atriumph of blind devotion over common sense if ever there was one.

When Blair arrived early or his train arrived late, it was felt by Whitehall that the increasingly controversial premier could not just stand on a platform, waiting. Hence the secret room. Now, it is just the station manager’s office. The building around it has gone back to being a market town station with flaking paint and a fragile roof, where isolated passenger footsteps echo in the long middle-of-the-day lull and trains for Scotland and the south of England rattle through without stopping. No current cabinet minister has a north-east seat – only two of its MPs are Tories. Labour’s power base is now in London, Yorkshire and the north-west.

Since the Blair era, the area has slipped in other ways. Between 2007 and 2012, unemployment rose faster than in any other UK region, to more than 10%, the highest in the country. Throughout 2013, as joblessness receded in most of the UK, in the north-east it carried on rising. This year, it has begun to fall a little but remains the worst in the nation.

> And how much of that fall can be attributed to sanctions ? Quite a chunk, I’d guess.

Since 2007, the area’s contribution to national economic growth, measured as gross value added, has shrunk from an already weak 3% in the Blair years to barely 2%. The Northern Rock building society, with roots in the region going back a century and a half, has suffered a humiliating meltdown. The north-east has been, and will probably continue to be, especially harshly treated by the coalition’s spending cuts.

According to the Special Interest Group of Municipal Authorities, a typical council in the region will lose £665 in government funding per inhabitant between 2010 and 2018, the biggest national fall. Meanwhile, public sector employment in the region – the highest in England at more than one job in five – has been falling since 2009, a year before the coalition took office.

At Newcastle United, one of the north-east’s disproportionate number of fiercely followed, rarely successful football clubs, the recent sponsorship of the team shirt tells a similarly dispiriting story: Northern Rock from 2003-2011; Virgin Money, Northern Rock’s current, Edinburgh-based owners, from 2012- 2013; this season, the payday loan company Wonga.

Between 2011 and 2012, child poverty rates in Middlesbrough and Newcastle Central rose to 40% and 38% respectively.

For as long as anyone alive will remember, this has been a ‘problem region’: a special case, a sick man,” wrote the Newcastle-born novelist Richard T Kelly in a 2011 essay, What’s Left For The North-East?

In recent years, some rightwingers have begun to throw up their hands. “It is at least as hard to buck geography as it is to buck the market,” said the influential Tory thinktank Policy Exchange in 2008. “It is time to stop pretending that there is a bright future for Sunderland.”

And last year the Tory peer Lord Howell suggested the region had “large uninhabited and desolate areas… where there’s plenty of room for fracking“. Weeks later, the Economist described Middlesbrough and Hartlepool as part of “Britain’s rust belt“; “Despite dollops of public money and years of heroic effort… [these] former industrial heartlands are quietly decaying.

The magazine concluded with an unlikely but ominous comparison: “The Cotswolds were the industrial engines of their day. One reason they are now so pretty is that, centuries ago, huge numbers of people fled them.”

From Darlington, an old and scuzzy two-carriage train chugs east along a branch line towards Middlesbrough. Along the way, it stops at Thornaby-on-Tees, an ex-industrial town beside the river Tees. From the 1840s until the 1980s, the Head Wrightson ironworks here made everything from parts for bridges to parts for nuclear power stations; then foreign competition closed it.

In 1987, Margaret Thatcher visited the site and took a much-photographed walk across a yellowing wasteland of weeds and factory remnants, wearing an inappropriate smart suit but looking unusually pensive. Shortly afterwards, her government, seeking to soften its reputation as the hammer of the north, created the Teesside Development Corporation, and the wasteland was turned into the Teesdale Business Park, a US-style landscape of corporate lawns, car parks and low office blocks.

The blocks are still there, neat and anonymous except for the corporate logos: Barclaycard, the NHS, the privatised services firm Serco. The car parks are full of mid-range vehicles. For three decades, the north-east has been a centre for modestly paid clerical work, such as call centres and the “back office” administrative processes of companies based elsewhere. But at the Teesdale Business Park, “To Let” is the most common logo; some are so old, they have rotted and snapped off.

As with Thornaby, Middlesbrough is a flat riverside town that once grew fast because of iron foundries: from only 25 inhabitants in 1801 to 165,000 in the 1960s. The Victorian centre was built to a grid pattern, like a US boom town, with docks just to the north for exporting iron and coal.

But in 1980 the docks closed, the population began to fall, and a void opened between the town and the river. It is still there, starting a few yards from the town centre; a great windswept triangle of rubble and rust, boarded-up houses, Dickensian wall fragments and roads to nowhere. Derelict waterfront warehouses stand in the distance. A middle-aged security man in a peeling wood cabin guards them. “There’s lots of steel cable in those sheds,” he says. “And lots of people try to steal it.” When asked how long it has been so run-down, he shrugs and says without emotion: “As long as I can remember.

The town’s population is around 138,000. To a visitor, the long, straight streets of the town centre seem eerily empty of pedestrians. At the sizable railway station, the weekday rush hour sometimes barely exists: at 8.30 on a Friday morning, I counted fewer than a dozen other people on the platforms. The station cafe had not bothered to open.

If things carry on as they are now,” says Alex Niven, a leftwing writer from Northumberland, “in five years the situation will get somewhere like Detroit.” Several other authorities in the north-east that I interviewed invoked the long-imploding American city, unprompted.

He left the area 10 years ago, aged 18, and now lives in London. “Almost all my friends from school live in London now. When you go back to the north-east, the landscape’s kind of crumbling. There is this sort of sadness. It feels like a people who’ve been weakened, who’ve just been cut loose.”

Geography does not help. “The north-east is at the far corner of the country, but it is separated by more than just miles,” writes Harry Pearson, born near Middlesbrough, in his 1994 book The Far Corner.

There is the wilderness of the Pennines to the west, the emptiness of the North York Moors to the south, and to the north, the Scottish border… Sometimes the north-east [seems] more like an island than a region.”

It is an island that the HS2 rail project is not currently intended to reach. Meanwhile, the prospect of Scottish independence and the near-certainty of more Scottish devolution threatens to marginalise the region further. “Scotland can already do more to attract inward investment than we can,” says Chi Onwurah, Labour MP for Newcastle Central. “More power for Scotland, in that sense, would not be a benefit for us.”

Pinned to a board in her constituency office is a list of Newcastle food banks. Outside, contrastingly, the grand city centre streets are much busier than in Middlesbrough, full of prosperously dressed people and big branches of the same upmarket chainstores as in richer places.

“Newcastle is the economic capital of the north-east,” she says, “but the centre, especially, is not representative of the region.” A few minutes’ walk farther out, cheap cafes offer soup of the day for a pound, and other scruffy businesses have long ceased to offer anything. “Every time I see a building boarded up,” Onwurah says, “it strikes fear into my heart.”

Onwurah grew up on a Newcastle council estate in the 60s and 70s. It was then a smoky, clattering centre for shipbuilding and other heavy industry, but these were in terminal decline. In 1984, she left to study electrical engineering, then worked away from Newcastle for a quarter of a century, until she was elected as MP in 2010. In the interim, the city reshaped its economy around tourism and nightlife, as an internationally hyped “party city“; around sport, with the 90s resurgence of Newcastle United; and around culture, with the opening in Gateshead of the Baltic art gallery in 2002 and the Sage music centre in 2004.

It was a very heady time,” says Niven, who supports Newcastle United and as a teenager often travelled into the city from rural Northumberland. “The north-east has a brash, confident side. There’s also often a sense of slumbering potential, that one day a messiah or a revival will come.”

In the 90s and noughties, optimism was most concrete along the river Tyne, which separates Gateshead and Newcastle. Decaying canyons of quayside buildings filled with flash new bars, expensive flats, high-end office space and public art. It was easy to visit Newcastle – which I often did then – and think it was becoming a swaggering, economically self-sufficient provincial city, such as those you find in less centralised countries: another Marseille or Hamburg.

The quaysides are slightly less uplifting now. On the Newcastle side, several bars have shut down. Bridge Court, an enormous, empty office block, has a plaque that reads, “The foundation stone was laid by Mr Eddie George, governor of the Bank of England, on 22 September 1994“; another sign says, “Demolition. Keep Out“.

Niven sees the north-east’s revival under the Blair government as “largely superficial. In the long term, it didn’t lead to better jobs and infrastructure. You can’t base the revival of a region on nightlife and football.

Onwurah, whose grandfather worked in the shipyards and whose mother grew up on the quayside, is less scathing: “Labour did a lot in the north-east, to stop the concentration of economic power elsewhere getting much worse, but we didn’t overcome the underlying issue. We haven’t got the previous sources of economic growth. And we haven’t got enough skills and entrepreneurs.” A successful region, she says, has a “critical mass” economically. “If you don’t have critical mass, to attract people and investment, you go into decline. We’re on the edge of that.” She holds up her hands and makes a flat, wobbling gesture: “We’re teetering.

In Middlesbrough, the riverside wasteland has been earmarked for regeneration – as a new area called Middlehaven – for almost 30 years. Recessions, anxious developers and the town’s wider economic struggles have confined most construction to the area’s fringe. Yet there is one exception: an incongruous silvery curve of a building in the centre of the emptiness. Middlesbrough College opened in 2008; it houses engineering workshops, training kitchens, hair and beauty salons, and other vocational course facilities for 16- to 18-year-olds. In 2011, it was rated “good with outstanding features” by Ofsted. Walking down the college’s bright and warm internal street, seconds after being out in the dereliction, and seeing students at work in the glass-walled rooms or rushing back and forth, it seems absurd to think that Middlesbrough does not have a long-term future. But in the window of the in-house Jobs Shop, only half a dozen positions are offered. One is at a local seaside care home for the elderly: the successful applicant will earn £107.20 for a 40-hour week.

Further education is one of the north-east’s few growth industries. “Without it, I dread to think what some of the cities would be doing,” says Andy Pike, director of Newcastle University’s Centre for Urban and Regional Development Studies. “A lot of people want to come and study in the north-east” – academic standards are high, living costs low and the nightlife boisterous. But, Pike adds, “We have a problem with graduate retention: not as many stay as could do. It’s a thin labour market. The people who stay typically will not end up in graduate jobs. And then local non-graduates will be bumped out of the labour market altogether.”

> But the influx of students also puts a strain on rented accommodation. Certainly in Sunderland (which seems to be ignored in this article) its noticable that streets near to the university appear to becoming student-only ghettos – private landlords presumably looking to maximise profits by packing them in.

In the north-east, the increasingly de-skilled, low-paid labour market of Britain under the coalition is at its meanest. Full-time wages are the lowest of any UK region.

In 2007, the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, or Mima, cheekily echoing New York’s Moma gallery, opened on a redeveloped square in the town centre. It looks the part: slick, glassy exterior; high-ceilinged interior; dozens of attentive young staff in Mima T-shirts. It offers an ambitious programme of community events and exhibitions – currently, Art And Optimism In 1950s Britain. Yet a gallery cannot make a town centre vibrant by itself. On Thursday evenings, it opens late, but on the Thursday I visited I saw four other visitors in half an hour.

Since the 1930s, governments have tested regeneration projects in the region. Edward Twiddy is one of the latest reformers to be despatched from London. Since 2012, he has been head of the North-East Local Enterprise Partnership (Nelep), a typically optimistic coalition creation, which aims to get business and local councils – almost all Labour – to work together for the area’s economic benefit.

Twiddy previously worked at the Treasury and for the Foreign Office in Iraq. He is slight and cerebral-looking, and speaks mostly in fluent Whitehall jargon. “The region’s still going through some fairly big structural changes,” he tells me. “The north-east was over-specialised – in coal, for example. Nowadays, people need to be able to approach life differently. You’ve got to be able to travel, to be competitive… Economic activity will move [away] if you cannot convince the market that yours is the right place to work.” But even Twiddy is off: he is set to leave Nelep for Atom, a new digital bank to be based “in the north-east“.

I ask how many staff Nelep has. Twiddy pauses: “The core is four. Then there are people doing discrete pieces of work for us, people loaned to us, people I’ve scrabbled around for, got a few pennies for… There are about 11 or 12 of us in all.” Nelep replaced One North-East, a regional development agency created by the Blair government that had 400 staff.

Yet there is a more economically independent side to the region. A few miles east of the centre of Newcastle, a side road leads steeply downhill to a half-hidden stretch of the Tyne. In the early 1980s, the quays here were a rotting ladder of derelict docks and slipways. Then two local property developers, Freddy and Bruce Shepherd, began to buy the land, clean it up, reuse the old cranes and rent out the quaysides: first to companies involved in North Sea oil, then to others involved in undersea cable-laying and offshore wind power.

Shepherd Offshore now stretches along the Tyne for miles. In its riverside boardroom, with giant reels of cable as tall as tugboats looming outside the windows, Twiddy makes the introductions over coffee served in Versace mugs. The Shepherds are heavyset men with fierce handshakes and slightly loose tongues. “We are the raggy end of the couch up here in the north-east,” Bruce says. Freddy interjects: “We get nothing easy. Not off the government. Without us, there would be nothing here but two abandoned shipyards.”Up and down the river, we’re close knit,” Bruce says. “There are more than 2,500 jobs. We’re a manufacturing base. We train people. But we’re forgotten down here.”

How many jobs were there in the days of the shipyards? “Six and a half thousand,” Freddy says. “I was an apprentice in the shipyard here. You’re never going to get back to those numbers.”

Bruce offers a tour of the quay in his spotless Range Rover. As we drive, he points out other cars parked nose to tail at the roadside: “There’s never enough parking. The number of people working here keeps growing.” We leave the road and enter a muddy construction site, scheduled to house a new national research centre for offshore and undersea technology, a collaboration between the Shepherds, Newcastle city council and Newcastle University. Bruce ploughs through puddles, his property developer’s patter in full flow, then stops his spattered Range Rover at a fence that faces the famous old Swan Hunter shipyard. It is still a wasteland, but new developments are encroaching from all directions.

Another sign of entropy reversed would be to attract more southerners; not just to study but to work. Twiddy is one. Tony Trapp is another. Raised in London, he has been one of the area’s handful of legendary entrepreneurs since the 70s. Then, he helped invent an undersea plough for laying seabed pipes and cables by driving a specially adapted tractor up and down a beach in Northumberland. Several companies and clever products later, he now runs Osbit Power, which makes self-stabilising gangways to connect offshore wind turbines to maintenance vessels.

The enterprise is based in a previously derelict hotel in sweeping Northumberland countryside. Behind its unkempt walls, purposeful-looking young employees cluster at desks or in front of whiteboards, while Trapp, a creased man of 68 with a murmuring voice but an intoxicating can-do aura, briefs them and holds court. “I’ve always based my businesses on clever graduates,” he says later. “I’ve taken on hundreds, some from Newcastle University, from Northumbria University. For offshore engineering, the north-east is the best place in Europe.

But in other ways he sees the local economy as still underpowered. “Persuading clever people from the south to come here is quite hard. It’s not just the image they have of the north-east – it does have the worst statistics, in health, in booze… If you look at many CEOs of big companies here, they don’t live up here. They live in Surrey, London. It’s insulting, in a way.” For a second, he looks his age. “I don’t have the solution to the north-east.”

It is not Twiddy’s job to voice such doubts. Instead, he takes me to the coast, not far from where Trapp tested his undersea plough. It is a brilliant blue day, and the often luminous north-east light is at its most seductive. We drive into the small town of Blyth, where there has been a port since the 12th century, which suggests the region has more staying power than the doom-mongers claim. We approach a cluster of shiny, towering blue-grey sheds, where the National Renewable Energy Centre tests blades for offshore wind farms. In December, the government increased its subsidy for this source of electricity, a rare gift from Whitehall to the north-east in the age of austerity. Twiddy sounds like a small boy for a moment: “The crane for lifting the blades is just amazing!

We walk to one of the windowless sheds. Inside, spot-lit, suspended above an expanse of polished concrete floor, a single pale grey blade, with weights and cables attached to it, flexes slowly up and down, vast and stately as the tail of a whale. The only sound is the hum of the air-conditioning. In a space the size of a small cathedral, but clean and tidy as a science lab, only two employees are visible: distant, purposeful figures in dust coats.

Working here looks much better than working in a chilly shipyard, a call centre or a nightclub, or for most of the region’s previous economic saviours. But Mill says the centre has a staff of 69. The north-east will need an awful lot more workplaces like it this if it is going to stop teetering.

Source – The Guardian  10 May 2014