Industrial Development, Blaydon

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 13th July 1964.

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Photo of Sir David Price Sir David Price , Eastleigh 12:00 am, 13th July 1964

I am very happy to reply to the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. Woof), because he is a very respected Member of the House. He has a personal knowledge of coal mining, past and present, and his opening remarks gave us a little historical sketch of certain features of his constituency of which he has an extensive knowledge. Whenever he speaks, he commands the attention of the House. As a Minister who has much to do with my colleagues from County Durham, I can say how extremely courteous, generous and helpful and what a very strong and fair advocate of the needs of his constituency he is. At a personal level, long before I even came to the House I had much to do with people in the southern end of County Durham, and my own respect for people from County Durham is very high.

I should like to make it quite clear from the outset that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I are fully aware of the special problems facing those areas of County Durham which have been traditionally dependent on the coal mining industry. I am sure that the hon. Member knows this. I am completely at one with him, therefore, when he says that areas like Blaydon have been hard hit by the contraction and rationalisation in recent years, of that old industry upon which his constituency and those around it have so much depended for their livelihoods and which has also so much shaped the character of the people whom the hon. Gentleman and other Members from County Durham have the honour to represent.

But, as the House will agree, that contraction and rationalisation are an inevitable consequence of the gradual working out of the coal resources which nature gave us in County Durham. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the National Coal Board is following a vigorous policy of redeployment of manpower within the region and of transfers to other Coal Board divisions where the industry's prospects are brighter. But the need remains, as the hon. Gentleman has very fairly put it to us, to expand and diversify industrial activity in North-East Durham itself. The area is certainly entitled to look to the Government for assistance in achieving this end, and my right hon. Friend and I accept that responsibility.

I should like now to describe with figures the problem of Blaydon as I see it. All but a small part of Blaydon Urban District lies within the Blaydon Employment Exchange area, which also covers Ryton Urban District. This area was scheduled as a development district under the Local Employment Act, 1960, two years ago. Most of the remainder of the hon. Gentleman's constituency, that is to say, Whickham Urban District, falls within the Gateshead Employment Exchange area which was scheduled as a development district in May last year. In both cases the decision to accord development district status stemmed from the steady rundown in coalmining employment. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that to that extent we have accepted the challenge of trying to diversify the economy of Blaydon and equally of Gateshead.

The four years from 1959 to 1962 saw the closure of four collieries in the Blaydon constituency. In 1963 three more collieries closed, making 72 men redundant to the long-term needs of the industry. The National Coal Board's closure programme for the financial year 1964–65 has not yet been announced, but I think that the hon. Gentleman knows that it includes the Watergate colliery, and the total of the redundancies under discussion at the moment, if they were to go through, would be of the order of 250.

As the hon. Gentleman has told the House, as if a decline in coalmining were not enough, Blaydon heard last May that the 100-year old Premier Foundry and Engineering Works would be closing down because of adverse trading conditions. The owners of that foundry are understood to have promised their employees all possible help in getting other jobs, but the stark fact remains that more than 300 men will have to be paid off from the works over the next few months.

In giving these details of the difficulties besetting Blaydon at the present time, I seek to convince the hon. Gentleman that the Government are fully seized of the area's problems and of the scale of assistance needed to overcome them, but I should like to tell the hon. Gentleman and the House how much has already been done. In the three years ended 31st March, 1963, that is, before the increased benefits came in under the revised Local Employment Act, 10 industrial development certificates were approved for Blaydon Employment Exchange area, involving 125,000 sq. ft. of factory space, and estimated to provide more than 150 new jobs. Progress has quickened considerably since then. Since 1st April, 1963, seven I.D.Cs. have been approved involving nearly 200,000 sq. ft. of factory space and estimated to provide no less than 760 new jobs.

To those figures must be added the further I.D.C. issued for the advance factory of 26,000 sq. ft. which we in the Board of Trade are building at Newburn Bridge, Ryton. This project is one of 14 Board of Trade advance factories built or planned for the North-East. Unhappily, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the start of building operations was held up by difficulties in finding and acquiring a suitable site, but I am glad to say that the project is now well under way and should be completed before the end of the year. When a tenant is found for it the factory should provide Blaydon with up to 100 more new jobs.

I add in parenthesis that in the early stages we do not find it very easy to get tenants for advance factories, but as they get nearer completion, and one has something physical to show, even though it is not completed, one finds that the interest begins to build up. I shall keep in touch with the hon. Gentleman on this matter.

In helping Blaydon to develop a more balanced and prosperous economy, our Department has made full use of the financial inducements available under the Local Employment Act, 1960, and the more recent one of 1963. During the period from 1st April, 1960, to 30th June of this year assistance offered for Blaydon Employment Exchange area under the Acts—I exclude offers which have been declined—has totalled £661,000, including £93,000 for the Board of Trade advance factory which I have just mentioned. This assistance covered 12 projects estimated to provide just over 1,000 jobs and represents 14 per cent. of the total assistance offered under the Acts to Tyneside as a whole. When one considers that Blaydon and Ryton Urban Districts had an estimated population of 44,000 at mid-1963, the area's share of assistance cannot, I think, be described as meagre.

It will of course take time to solve Blaydon's problems and the solid progress made thus far has certainly not led to any complacency on the part of the Government. The unemployment problem is still very real with 440 people—three quarters of them males—out of work at mid-June of this year. I think it is encouraging to report that despite the contraction in coalmining employment to which attention has been drawn both by the hon. Member and myself, 130 fewer people were out of work last month than at mid-June a year ago. I am greatly encouraged by the fact that jobs in the pipeline for Blaydon now exceed the number of people currently unemployed; and better still, that the jobs expected to arise there over the next four years will provide a greater diversity of employment opportunities than in the past.

The arrival in Blaydon of Churchill Gear Machines Limited, whose factory has been one of the most notable additions to the area's economy in post-war years, is already bringing about a substantial improvement in employment prospects for males. I would add in passing —the hon. Gentleman raised the question of school leavers—that here there should be provided more apprentice opportunities for the abler of the young people coming out of school. Other industries expected to give a wider spread of employment opportunities range from quilt manufacture to the production of adhesive compounds.

East of Blaydon, but within reasonable travel to work distance is the Gateshead Employment Exchange area, part of which falls within the constituency of the hon. Gentleman, and which has about 1,950 jobs in prospect over the next three to four years. The Gateshead area contains the Board of Trade's Industrial Estate at Team Valley, one of the finest ventures of its kind in the world. About 14,000 people are employed there by over 100 firms. There is still plenty of room for more and Gateshead's development district status means that the Board of Trade is willing to build premises for suitable projects. As it is, several extensions are being built at Team Valley at the present time, and in the last six months further extensions have been approved which will create another 400 new jobs. Again I would say that all these developments give increasing prospects of diverse opportunities for our young people.

The hon. Member—by inference although not by name—referred to the Ryton Urban District Council's desire to extend the Addison industrial estate and asked whether compulsory powers could be used to effect this. There is I believe other land scheduled for industrial development available in Ryton and Blaydon and the right course would be for the council to discuss with the planning authority—namely, Durham County Council—the case for zoning further land for industrial use. The hon. Gentleman knows that he will find them extremely helpful. Certainly it would be the proper thing for a prudent council to ensure that there is sufficient land zoned for use. It is no good bringing industrialists along to the area of a local authority if there is no land already zoned. It is possible that the site which the hon. Gentleman has in mind is that covered by a British Railways siding which is being closed and cleared. If that be so, I suggest that the Council should continue its negotiations with British Railways. On the availability of compulsory purchase powers, I understand that the Ryton Council could, if land had been designated for industrial use by the planning authority, use the powers of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1962, and, of course, the county council also has compulsory purchase powers.

So far I have tended to describe the employment and industrial position at Blaydon in isolation. It is also necessary to view Blaydon's future in the wider context of the Government's programme for the redevelopment and growth of the North-East as a whole. Blaydon is in the "growth zone" to which the increased public investment envisaged in our White Paper on North East development will be mainly directed. It is also part of Tyneside, which the White Paper selected as one of three "centres of expansion"—within the growth zone—to be given priority in the investment programme. The object of this investment is to deal with the very problems which can so clearly be seen to affect Blaydon.

Our aim, in fact, is to offset the results of the contraction of traditional industries, such as coal-mining, and to restore the economic balance of the region by improvements in the social, economic and industrial environment. By dint of increased expenditure on such things as roads, urban redevelopment, housing, and derelict land reclamation, we mean to ensure that areas like Blaydon are pleasant to live in, and are able to offer as many attractions to industrialists as can other areas of the country less burdened with the industrial legacies of the past. This concept goes even deeper than the reduction of unemployment—vitally important though that is—and establishes a clear inter-relationship between the needs of particular towns or districts and the redevelopment of the North-East as a whole.

In conclusion, I think Blaydon can look forward to taking its share of increasing prosperity in the North-East. Industrial expansion is already well under way; and Blaydon has the assurance that assistance under the Local Employment Acts will continue, not merely until the area's own unemployment is reduced, but until there is strong evidence of a general improvement in employment throughout the region. I would not attempt to minimise Blaydon's present difficulties, but I think I have shown that there has been progress in the last year or two. I am convinced that the vigorous measures being taken by the Government will lead to a bright and prosperous future for the hon. Gentleman's constituency, and there will still be lots o' lads and lasses there, aal wi' smilin faces".