‘Three options put forward’ to bring Government jobs to Teesside as mayor urged to back Middlesbrough

Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen has been urged to abandon plans of Teesside Airport being the ideal location for hundreds of Government civil servants who are being moved out of London.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is due to make an announcement in the coming weeks over a new northern campus for the Treasury which would initially house up to 750 civil servants.

Some parts of the Ministry of Communities, Housing and Local Government are also slated to move to the new campus, while other staff from Government departments due to be shifted out of Whitehall could follow.

Conservative Mr Houchen has been pushing the case strongly for land at the south side of Teesside Airport to be the chosen site for new purpose-built offices and previously claimed a town centre location would not be big enough for the Government’s plans.

He added today that the Government want “a large, new build, state-of-the-art campus” and that three options have been put forward to senior officials of Darlington, Middlesbrough and a site next to the airport.

The Tees Valley could still miss out altogether with other areas under consideration including Leeds and Newcastle, while Liverpool and Manchester have also been mooted.

One unnamed Northern Conservative MP told the Financial Times that “officials in London all want to work in cities like Leeds, Liverpool and Newcastle because they have better cultural life”.

Andy McDonald MP
Andy McDonald MP

Middlesbrough MP Andy McDonald said: “I have made repeated representations to the Chancellor calling for Middlesbrough to be the preferred site as it already has the necessary infrastructure and would be a catalyst for further economic benefits for surrounding businesses and organisations throughout the Tees Valley.

“I am calling on the Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen to abandon his proposal for the campus to be situated out on a limb at Teesside Airport and join me in making a strong case for Middlesbrough town centre. 

“We have to listen to expert advice about how to gain the best value from this proposed move and that is clearly secured by being located in a town centre. 

“It is imperative that Teesside is the chosen location and Middlesbrough is the economic centre of Tees Valley. 

“We all need to tell the Government loudly and clearly that Middlesbrough is the place for the Whitehall relocation.”  

“No sense whatsoever”

Labour’s candidate for Tees Valley mayor, Jessie Joe Jacobs said not to locate the campus in a town centre like Middlesbrough, or alternatively Darlington, would be a missed opportunity at a time when town centres were missing out on footfall and desperately needed a “shot in the arm”.

She said: “Is he [Mr Houchen] the mayor of Tees Valley or the mayor of the airport?

“The airport is becoming a money and resource pit taking much needed regeneration opportunities away from other areas of the Tees Valley.”

Jessie Joe Jacobs

Ms Jacobs added: “My fear is the mayor is putting this deal at risk by trying to bolster the airport over doing what’s right for the region as a whole.

“I have my doubts about the out-of-town business park being suggested by the mayor.

“We have brand new office accommodation in places like Middlesbrough and Darlington, set in the town centres and with close proximity to shops, cinemas, theatres and other leisure venues. 

“Busy office accommodation on the high street would be a much needed lifeline to our struggling town centres. 

“The mayor’s plan to stick 750 jobs away from our economic centres makes no sense whatsoever.”

The mayor responds

Mr Houchen told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that the only reason the region was being considered for the new Treasury North campus was because of his efforts.

He also said Darlington and Middlesbrough were among the options being considered, along with the airport.

Mr Houchen said: “For over a year, I have made it clear to the Government that the Treasury jobs need to come here and I’m delighted the Tees Valley is being considered.

“The Cabinet Office has done the work to show it’ll be a success and Rishi is behind it.

“But if he’s forced by the civil service to swap one metropolitan city for another, they might as well not bother.  

“The whole point of moving senior civil servants out of the capital is to dramatically change their outlook and better inform policy, something that simply will not happen if they move to another city and Rishi absolutely gets this.”

Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen

He added: “Let me be clear, the Tees Valley is only being considered as the home of the new Treasury North campus because of the months of work, meetings, presentations and proposals I’ve submitted to the Government. 

“The Government has been clear from the outset that they want a large, new build, state-of-the-art campus capable of accommodating large parts of some of the most important Whitehall departments. 

“Having hosted senior officials in the region to discuss this in detail three options were put forward of Darlington, Middlesbrough and a site next to the airport.

“I just want this to come to the Tees Valley.

“I don’t mind where in the Tees Valley it goes, but now is the time to convince the Government why here instead of Leeds or the likes of Manchester.”

“Levelling up”

The airport, which was brought back into public hands in 2019 by Mr Houchen following approval by Tees Valley council leaders, is currently loss-making, although a ten-year turnaround plan is in place.

Last year the Tory mayor broke ground on infrastructure work on its proposed Southside business park, which will cover a massive 270 acres and from which any potential revenue could be reinvested in the airport.

Tees Valley Mayor, Ben Houchen cuts the first sod as work starts on the Southside Development of Tees Valley Airport

Other Conservative MPs have backed plans to bring the new hub to the area, but did not go beyond touting Teesside as its potential home.

Simon Clarke, Conservative MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, said: “This Government is committed to levelling up and there would be no better indication of how serious we are than if Teesside were to be picked as the home for the Treasury North campus.

“We have so much going for our area in terms of both untapped potential and quality of life and such a move would transform the nature of Government decision-making so as to better reflect the priorities of areas like ours.

“Together with our mayor Ben Houchen and my fellow Conservative Teesside MPs, I am in regular contact with the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and other senior figures in the Government to make the case why this is such an important idea.”

Jacob Young, Conservative MP for Redcar, said: “As I’ve said in the House of Commons, this move has to be about putting policy and decision makers in the heart of our left behind communities – so that they can fully understand what areas like ours face.

“All of the Conservative voices in Teesside are united on this drive to level up our area after the years of Labour’s neglect. 

“Landing Treasury North here, instead of Newcastle or Leeds, will be a fantastic step in that direction.”

But another mayor has doubts

The potential for treasury jobs was a hot topic at Wednesday night’s Middlesbrough Council meeting.

Independent mayor Andy Preston wanted to see the jobs come to Middlesbrough – or a town centre on Teesside – rather than the airport.

He told the virtual chamber the levelling up agenda was a “fantastic idea” which “seemed like it was happening”.

But his biggest fear was the jobs bypassed Teesside and went to Manchester or Newcastle.

Andy Preston

“That’s a real risk – getting senior civil servants out of London is something that all Governments have tried and it’s almost impossible,” added Mr Preston.

“This Government might manage to do it but they might not manage to get them to Teesside.

“Out every single area in the whole country, we deserve that levelling up.

“Middlesbrough is fantastic, ambitious and optimistic but by some measures is the poorest, most deprived place in England.”

“Wasted opportunity” – Preston

The mayor urged people to write to MPs and Goverment chiefs before telling the chamber leaders to put a hub in an urban centre.

Mr Preston said: “It should be in the centre of Middlesbrough – if it can’t be in the centre of Middlesbrough, it should be in the centre of Stockton, and if it can’t be there, it should be in the centre of Hartlepool.

“Town centres need this help. Without this help some town centres are going to disappear completely.

“The other thing I’m concerned about is these jobs being pushed or lured towards Teesside Airport.

“To be clear, I would rather see these jobs come to Teesside Airport than go to Manchester but going to Teesside Airport would be a monstrously wasted opportunity.

“People will drive to Teesside Airport from places like Durham city, Barnard Castle, Harrogate and York for three days a week and then drive home.

“They will have almost zero impact on our economy, culture and shops.

“We need these jobs in the centre of town for the sake of a green strategy, the sake of reviving retail jobs and a sense of place.

“We need these Government jobs in the centre of town.”

Scouting out

Treasury officials have been scouting out potential sites in the North and considering local amenities such as housing and schools.

Officials would be required to live and work in the area they are relocated to, while ministers would also be expected to spend a significant amount of their time in the new offices.

A Cabinet Office spokesman said: “Decision makers should be close to the people they serve and we want to see opportunity, jobs and investment fairly distributed across the country. 

“That’s why we’ve committed to relocating civil service roles out of central London, building on the thousands of civil servants we already have working across the United Kingdom.”