North East England from 2020
The new hope and aspirations associated with the first two decades of the 21st century were followed in the early 2020s by periods of rapid political-economic change and turmoil. Political divisions persisted but just as great an impact came in the form of the Covid 19 coronavirus pandemic. Coupled with a lack of political stability and challenges to poor leadership, the pandemic would have huge economic and social consequences. Sadly, the North East entered the 2020s facing the challenges of a struggling economy but also environmental threats and impacts from global aggression, along with an increasing cost of living crisis and other social difficulties of a new age. All of this as the nation came to mourn the loss of its longest serving monarch.
Jan 2020 – Geordie duo’s TV award record
Newcastle entertainment duo Ant and Dec (Ant McPartlin and Declan Donnelly) scoop the most popular TV presenter award once again in the National Televison Awards, breaking records for consecutive wins. The entertainers have been a mainstay of prime time television for just over two decades and have won numerous British Academy (BAFTA) awards. They first sprung to fame on the Children’s television drama Byker Grove broadcast from 1989 with Ant joining the cast in 1990.
2020 – Flagship building for Helix
The Lumen, a building providing extensive office space, opens as one of the flagships in the exciting Newcastle Helix development near St James’ Park. Called ‘Science Central’ until a rebrand in 2018, Helix covers a 24 acre site. It is home to progressive businesses and associated residences. Partly occupying the site of the former Newcastle Breweries, this innovation hub focuses on bringing “healthier, longer, smarter and easier lives to the world” through a long-term partnership between Newcastle University, Newcastle City Council and Legal & General. Also on the site is ‘The Catalyst’, home to the National Innovation Centre for Ageing and National Innovation Centre for Data; ‘Biosphere’, a home to chemistry and biology labs; ‘The Core’ a research-led business centre; ‘The Key’, a home to Newcastle University’s structural engineering and research along with the Urban Sciences Building and Frederick Douglass Centre. The last of these is a teaching and learning centre named from African American abolitionist, writer and social reformer Frederick Douglass (c1817-1895) who once resided in Newcastle’s Summerhill Grove.
2020 – New Vaux brewery
A new Vaux Brewery opens in Monk Street, Sunderland, a short distance from the Stadium of Light in Monkwearmouth on the north side of the river. The company who have established this new brewery aim to relaunch the famous brewing brand name with which Sunderland was associated up until the closure of the original Vaux Breweries in 1999 that was located south of the river.
March 2020 – Covid lockdown
Britain goes into its first lockdown in response to the Covid 19 Coronavirus pandemic. Massive changes in working practices, leisure and lifestyle come into force to combat the threat from the virus and save lives. Many families are separated from their loved ones as individuals go into isolation and numerous businesses, particularly in the leisure sector will close. There is uncertainty about the duration of the virus ‘lockdown’, all with challenging social and economic consequences. Mask wearing becomes a compulsory feature in shops and public places. In December, a programme of vaccinations begin.
May 25, 2020 – PM adviser explains journey
Dominic Cummings, Durham-born chief adviser to Conservative Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, becomes the subject of media attention and scrutiny. It follows a revelation he left his London home with Covid, along with his family at the end of March (despite strict lockdown regulations introduced by the government) to drive over 200 miles north to his parent’s home near Durham City. From here he made a day visit to Barnard Castle in April to apparently test his eyesight. Cummings would explain his actions in a live broadcast press conference from the garden of 10 Downing Street on May 25. The embittered Cummings will subsequently leave his post as Johnson’s adviser in November. A year later, in November 2021, attention will turn to revelations of lockdown rules broken by senior figures in government, including the Prime Minister.
June 23, 2020 – Warnock Boro manager
Sheffield-born Neil Warnock is appointed manager of Middlesbrough following the dismissal of Jonathan Woodgate.
2020 – Newcastle’s tallest building
Hadrian’s Tower, Newcastle’s tallest building opens. It is a residential block, situated in Rutherford Street and is 272 feet high (83m).
Dec 5, 2020 – Johnson’s Sunderland
Lee Johnson is appointed Sunderland AFC manager following the departure of Phil Parkinson. Newmarket-born Johnson had previously managed Bristol City.
March 3, 2021 – Treasury Jobs for Darlington
In today’s budget, the UK Chancellor, Rishi Sunak announced the relocation of hundreds of Civil Service Treasury jobs from London to Darlington in a move welcomed by Tees Valley mayor, Ben Houchen. It hails the beginning of a new economic campus dubbed ‘Treasury North’ to be based near Darlington’s Bank Top Station on the East Coast Main Line. Further Civil Service jobs will be announced for Darlington in May amounting to an overall total of around 750 Treasury jobs and 500 jobs in Overseas Trade. Posts will be partially fulfilled by relocation of some London staff and others by natural turnover with vacant London posts filled at Darlington. The government is relocating around 22,000 Civil Service jobs away from the capital to other parts of the nation.
May 6, 2021 – More election shocks
Local council elections in the North East and a parliamentary by-election at Hartlepool throw up surprising results that seem to suggest some recent, if perhaps temporary changes in the region’s political landscape. Despite retaining the most council members, the Labour Party lose overall control of Durham County Council for the first time since 1925. The council had been the first in the country to come under Labour control back in 1919. Meanwhile, Hartlepool votes for Conservative, Jill Mortimer as its new MP. The constituency (and preceding constituency ‘The Hartlepools’) had been held by Labour since 1964.
July 11, 2021 – Euro final woe for England
In football England play for the first time ever in the final of the UEFA European Championship (Euro 2020) tournament at Wembley in an event watched with anticipation and expectation by the nation. The tournament was postponed until this year due to the pandemic. To celebrate the event’s 60th year, matches were held across numerous countries rather than hosted by a single nation. In the quarter final against Ukraine on July 3 in Rome, England win 4-0 with a contributory goal from Wearsider Jordan Henderson. This was followed by a victory over Denmark in the semi-final on July 7 at Wembley. In the final against Italy on July 11 the game ended 1-1 with England losing 3-2 on penalties, despite two saves by another Wearsider, Jordan Pickford, from Belotti and Jorginho.
Aug 2, 2021 – Steelworks demolition begins
Demolition of the old steelworks at the mouth of the Tees near the South Gare at Redcar commences. The demolition of this major industrial landmark will ultimately include the iconic blast furnace. The site is a symbol of the Teesside steel industry. The process commenced with Tees Valley mayor, Ben Houchen sounding a horn to begin the work.
Sep 19, 2021 – Dorman Long tower
The 1950s Dorman Long Tower at South Bank on Teesside was demolished overnight despite its brief listing as a protected building. A coal storage facility, built in Brutalist style as part of the steel works, with the words ‘DORMAN LONG’ boldly commemorating one of the most famous companies in North East industrial history, the tower was considered by many to be a Teesside industrial icon.
Sep 12, 2021 – Great North Run returns
The annual Great North Run returns to Newcastle, an event like many others cancelled last year during the height of the Covid pandemic. As a precautionary measure this year’s route is unusual in that it both begins and ends in Newcastle with the runners crossing the Tyne Bridge twice. Usually the event ends at South Shields.
Oct 2021 – ‘Richest Club in the World’
Media and football fans are describing Newcastle United FC as the ‘richest football club in the world’ following this month’s much-delayed takeover by a business consortium that includes the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia. The takeover bid has created much excitement amongst the fans, although many thought it would not happen after 18 months of continuously stalled negotiations involving the Premier League. Reasons given for the delay included concerns over whether the Saudi Arabian government would be directly involved in the running of the club and the objections of a state-owned media group in Qatar called beIN. At the end of July 2020 the investors pulled out of the negotiations. However, a petition followed, signed by over 100,000 football fans coupled with some parliamentary involvement. A number of MPs asked for an improvement in the transparency of the process, they included Prime Minister, Boris Johnson who in August 2020 called for more clarity in the reasons for decision making delays. Formal negotiations continued along with legal challenges from the football club against the Premier League coupled with a change in heart by Saudi Arabia regarding the broadcast rights of beIN in their country. These were key issues in finally completing the complex and not particularly transparent takeover process this month. The Newcastle fans who had been frustrated by their club’s previous owner, Mike Ashley, are delighted and the takeover has brought a huge sense of renewed confidence and optimism to the club.
Oct 20, 2021 – Eddie Howe for NUFC
Buckinghamshire-born former Bournemouth AFC manager Eddie Howe is appointed manager of Newcastle United following the departure of Steve Bruce by mutual consent with the club’s new owners on October 20. Bruce and the previous club owner, Mike Ashley had not been popular at St James’ Park.
Nov 7, 2021 – Wilder’s Boro
Sheffield-born Chris Wilder becomes manager of Middlesbrough as successor to fellow-Sheffield man Neil Warnock.
Dec 2021 – Fire Station venue
The Fire Station, a new music venue opens in the centre of Sunderland. Built as an extension to the city’s former Edwardian fire station, the complex features a restaurant and bars as well as music and theatre studios. Recent developments in Sunderland as elsewhere in the North East have included a mix of brand new buildings and exciting, re-purposed and innovative new roles for existing heritage features.
Feb 11, 2022 – Sunderland manager Neil
Scotsman, Alex Neil is appointed Sunderland AFC manager, leaving his managerial post at Preston North End. The club is undergoing another change of ownership. Swiss-born French businessman Kyril Louis-Dreyfus who became chairman in February 2021 will additionally become majority shareholder in June 2022.
Feb 14, 2022 – DCMS Jobs for Darlington
The Government has announced 200 new civil service jobs for Darlington with the opening of an office of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport at Darlington’s Economic Campus. It follows the announcement in March last year of hundreds of new Treasury Jobs at the Darlington centre.
March 2022 – Region supports Ukraine
In line with many parts of Britain, people and organisations across the North East of England have been showing their support for Ukraine, following the recent invasion of that nation at the end of February. Flags displaying the Ukrainian colours become a common site on public buildings and public places across the country including the North East.
March 2022 – Sunderland City Hall
Sunderland’s new City Hall opens on the former Vaux Breweries site near the River Wear to the west of the Wearmouth Bridge. This prime site has been awaiting development since the closure of Vaux Breweries in 1999.
April 2022 – Spanish Gallery
The Spanish Gallery at Bishop Auckland is officially opened by HRH Charles, the Prince of Wales and Queen Letizia of Spain. It is the UK’s largest collection of sixteenth and seventeenth century Spanish artworks outside London, including works by El Greco, Murillo, Zubarán and Velazquez. The gallery, developed with the backing of philanthropist, Jonathan Ruffer is situated in the town’s market place occupying the former nineteenth century Barrington school and Backhouse Bank.
May 2022 – Demolition in Pilgrim Street
The demolition begins of what is sometimes considered to be Newcastle’s ugliest building. Commercial Union House, an office block which partially overhangs Pilgrim Street on a curious raised podium was constructed in 1971-72 in Brutalist style and has perhaps become the most familiar feature of the street. Pilgrim Street is in fact one of Newcastle’s oldest streets, with origins going back to medieval times when it was the principal north-south route through the town. The demolition will make for new developments.
May 2022 – Sunderland up
Sunderland AFC return to the Championship after four seasons in the third tier of English football where the club broke records for attendances at that level matching some of the attendances in the Premier League. A 2-0 play-off win at Wembley brings an end to the club’s longest spell in the third tier, much to the relief of Sunderland whose fans had taken over London’s Trafalgar Square in the build up to the match.
June 2, 2022 – Jubilee celebrates Queen
Beacons are lit in towns and villages across the North East as the nation and other parts of the world celebrate the Platinum Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. It was on June 2, 1953 that the Coronation of the Queen took place. She had ascended to the throne in February 1952, following the death of her father, George VI and is now the longest serving British monarch. In February of this year she passed a milestone 70 year reign. Previously, the longest serving British monarch was Queen Victoria, who reigned for 64 years.
July 7, 2022 – PM Boris resigns
Boris Johnson announces his resignation following a series of scandals including ‘Partygate’ in which it becomes apparent he and senior government figures have broken rules (despite denials) on holding parties during the Covid lockdown. One noted figure in the revelations of the PM’s rule-breaking has been former advisor, Durham-born Dominic Cummings. Johnson finally gave way to pressure and announced his intention to resign, though he continues as PM until a new Conservative leader (and PM) is elected by party members in September. Several scandals seem to have been centred on the issue of trust and Johnson’s ability to tell the truth. A final tipping point comes with his handling of a sexual harassment scandal involving a fellow Conservative MP. Johnson seemed determined to continue as PM despite immense pressure but the resignation of a staggering 56 cabinet ministers from the government over three days (July 5-7) along with the earlier resignation of Conservative Party Chairman, Oliver Dowden on June 24th made his position untenable. Among ministers resigning were Chancellor, Rishi Sunak (MP for Richmond in North Yorkshire) and Pensions Minister, Guy Opperman (MP for Hexham).
July 19, 2022 – Heatwave records
With UK temperatures broken on Monday July 18, a further day of unprecedented hot weather followed breaking more records across the nation and region on Tuesday. North East England witnessed its highest ever recorded temperatures, for a time eclipsing Athens and Cairo. In Newcastle temperatures reached 36.8 degrees Celsius with temperatures of around 36 degrees experienced across much of the region. Newton Aycliffe in County Durham reached 38 degrees and parts of Yorkshire topped 40 degrees with a UK record temperature of 40.3 at Coningsby in Lincolnshire. At Charterhall near Duns in Scotland, about six miles north of Coldstream on Tweed, a new Scottish record temperature of 34.8 degrees was set. Many people struggled with heat in their UK homes which are mostly without air conditioning. Buckled railway lines and fallen power cables affected some Metro and rail services. Climate and weather experts advise these summer temperatures are a feature of global warming and will become a new normality, though they may not occur every year.
July 31, 2022 – England Women Champions
The England women’s team known as the ‘Lionesses’ defeat Germany 2-1 in extra time in the UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 final with goals from substitutes Ella Toone and Chloe Kelly. The team includes Whitby-born, Beth Mead, a former Middlesbrough Youth and former Sunderland player who was raised in the village of Hinderwell near Saltburn on the Cleveland coast. Mead has been the joint top-scorer in the competition along with Germany’s Alexandra Popp, scoring six goals each. Two other former Sunderland players appearing in the Wembley final are the Sunderland-born and raised Jill Scott and Berwick-upon-Tweed-born, Lucy Bronze. Lucy was raised in north Northumberland and once lived on Lindisfarne, where her grandmother was caretaker at the castle. Another player making an appearance for the team in the final, from just outside the region, is Harrogate-born Rachel Daly.
July 31, 2022 – Devastating Bird Flu
Up 50,000 birds are thought to have died from avian flu on the Farne Islands with the corpses of dead birds becoming a common site on beaches of the North East coast. During July wardens on the Farne Islands recovered around 3,000 dead birds. It is the most devastating outbreak of bird flu to effect British birds. Around half of the islands’ colony of Sandwich Terns are thought to have been wiped out by the disease.
Aug 30, 2022 – Mowbray’s Sunderland
Following the departure of Alex Neil who leaves to manage Stoke City, Sunderland AFC appoint Saltburn-born Tony Mowbray. A former Boro, Celtic and Ipswich Town player, Mowbray has previously managed Blackburn Rovers, Coventry City, Middlesbrough, Celtic and West Bromwich Albion.
Summer 2022 – Hadrian’s Wall : 19 centuries
A year long if rather low-key festival of activities and events continues to celebrate 1,900 years since the building of Hadrian’s Wall which was commenced in AD 122. The wall stretches from Bowness on the Solway Firth in Cumbria to Wallsend on Tyne and includes remnants and traces in the city of Newcastle upon Tyne.
Sept 5, 2022 – Leadership contest concludes
In the long-running Conservative party leadership contest, candidates were whittled down to two: Foreign Secretary and Norfolk MP, Liz Truss; and former Chancellor, Richmond (North Yorkshire) MP, Rishi Sunak. During the leadership campaign, Sunak raised eyebrows in the North when he was recorded addressing an audience in affluent Tunbridge Wells in south east England. Sunak revealed to his audience that as Chancellor he tried to reverse Treasury formulas “that shoved the funding into deprived areas” in his desire to benefit more well-off areas like Tunbridge Wells. Truss, who is declared winner also had some interesting views in her campaign, such as her intention to cut public sector pay outside the south east of England, including that of teachers and nurses.
Sept 5, 2022 – Southern few elect PM
Following a 54 day-long Conservative leadership contest, new prime minister Liz Truss meets with the Queen at Balmoral who invites her to form a government. This event usually takes place at Buckingham Palace but took place at Balmoral due to the Queen’s health. Truss was elected solely by Conservative party members who make up 0.2% of Britain’s population. She won by 81,326 votes to Sunak’s 60,399. More than 50% of party members are aged over 50 and around 63% are white males. Most are middle class with 80% belonging to the ABC1 or upper middle class category. Geographically, 42% of Conservative party members live in the south of England outside London with 14% from London itself. Only 20% of Conservative party members reside in Northern England (comprising the North East, North West and Yorkshire), with a further 18% in the midlands and Wales and only 6% in Scotland.
Sept 5, 2022 – Cost of living crisis
The lengthy leadership contest starting in early July and subsequent holiday absences of outgoing PM, Boris Johnson distract from serious economic issues. A ‘cost of living crisis’ partly connected to Russia’s war on Ukraine and associated western sanctions, resulting in Russia restricting its gas supplies to Europe. It is also linked (amongst other things) to the curious, lucrative workings of the British energy market. Consumer prices for gas and electricity are due to reach unprecedented highs in coming months with many households and businesses struggling to make ends meet. Curiously, prior to the Russian response to sanctions, Germany received 55% of its gas from Russia while France received 17%. Now, with Russia restricting supplies, Germany and France have seen respective energy price rises of 23% and 4%. Strangely, the UK, which only received 4% of its gas from Russia sees a staggering rise of 215%. There are opportunities for ‘British’ companies to make money supplying energy to Europe. Furthermore, with increases in food prices and motor fuel, real wages are falling at the fastest pace since records begun. The economic challenges are particularly tough in North East . ‘Unpopular’ policies such as raising bankers’ bonuses are amongst the measures the new PM has in mind, with the aim of boosting the economy.
Sept 2022 – ‘Levelling Up’ yet to deliver
Although ‘Levelling up’ has been a motto and policy of the Johnson government with billions set aside, its effective reality has yet to show real impact. Little mention was made of the region during the leadership campaign, though Truss and fellow candidate Sunak confirmed a commitment to upgrading the A1 in Northumberland. This perennial promise from politicians goes back decades without fruition. Statistics published in The Guardian show that of £4.8 billion set aside for ‘Levelling Up’, only £107 million has been delivered in the first year. Of the twelve UK regions and home nations, the West Midlands has been the biggest recipient with only £16.3 million delivered (individuals can win more than this on the Lottery). The North East (£4.9 million) is in tenth place for funds delivered, just ahead of London. Northern Ireland, which received a very generous £1 billion investment deal for support propping up Theresa May’s government in 2017, only received £1.1 million. There are rumblings Levelling Up may be quietly shelved.
Sept 8, 2022 – End of an era : Elizabeth II
Sadly, Buckingham Palace announced the death today of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II at Balmoral. The Queen died peacefully earlier this afternoon. She is our nation’s longest serving monarch and much-loved across the nation including the North East where she has important family roots. Her loss will be mourned on this sad day marking the end of an Elizabethan age spanning much of the modern era of post war times. When Elizabeth ascended to the throne in 1952, barely anyone owned a television set; rock n’ roll was in its infancy; the internet a science fantasy and our region a home to hundreds of collieries. So much has changed during Elizabeth’s reign but the Queen remained a symbolic constant and dignified symbol of the nation. A new era of trepidation begins with much uncertainty in the world. Although, like the late Queen, he will not interfere in the political decisions of the elected government much hope is invested in the new era and influence of King Charles III who has been particularly pro-active in his desire to tackle environmental issues during his time as Prince of Wales.
Sept 8, 2022 – Former PM’s tribute to Queen
Writing in tribute to the late Queen, the former Prime Minister, Sir Tony Blair recalled the Queen being part of his life from waving his little flag as he watched her driven through the streets of Durham to the honour of serving as her Prime Minister: “We have lost not just our monarch” wrote Mr Blair “but the matriarch of our nation, the figure who more than any other brought our country together, kept us in touch with our better nature, personified everything which makes us proud to be British.”
Sept 10, 2022 : KING CHARLES III
A proclamation of the new king, His Majesty, King Charles III takes place at St James’s Palace in London. Yesterday, a special service was held in remembrance of the late Queen at St Paul’s Cathedral in London under the new Dean Designate, Andrew Tremlett who has only just been appointed to this new role, having been Dean of Durham since 2015. Churches great and small are visited by people for quiet reflection across the nation and across the region where flags have been flying at half mast on public buildings. Flags are temporarily raised in honour of the new king. Many major events, notably football fixtures including those in the Premier League have been cancelled today out of respect for the late Queen.
Sept 11, 2022 – North proclaims King
Public proclamations of the new king which are formal announcements to the public are made across the region. For Tyne and Wear the proclamation is made by the High Sheriff from the law courts on Newcastle Quayside. Other similar announcements from mayors and civic dignitaries take place across the region including that of the Lord Mayor of Newcastle at Newcastle Civic Centre and the Lord Lieutenant and High Sheriff of Durham from the balcony of Durham Town Hall. The annual Great North Run takes place today from Newcastle to South Shields in which thousands of runners are raising money for their chosen charities. Instead of the usual air display from the Red Arrows, the event commences with a one minute silence followed by the National Anthem.
Sept 17, 2022 – Lindisfarne icon on loan
The Lindisfarne Gospels, a beautiful icon of North East England that is so deeply symbolic of the region’s identity, culture and Christian heritage goes on temporary display in an exhibition at Newcastle’s Laing Gallery. The gospels are on loan to the region from the British Library in London. Although we know little about Newcastle during the ‘Golden Age of Northumbria’ in which the Lindisfarne Gospels were created, the Lindisfarne Gospels are still very much a part of the whole region’s deeply rooted sense of identity. Their temporary return to the North East, on loan from London, might be seen as a cause for celebration. It might also be seen as a symbol of the appropriation of our region’s culture and identity, a region whose future is so often determined by events and decisions made in a very different corner of our nation.
Sept 19, 2022 – Nation’s farewell to Queen
For several days the coffin of the late Queen, Elizabeth II, lying in state at Westminster Hall has been visited by thousands of people from across the nation, including numerous people from our region and from around the world. Many people queued for hours, quietly and patiently overnight, to pay their last respects to Britain’s longest serving and much-loved monarch.
Today, on a specially designated national bank holiday, the Queen’s state funeral took place. A service at Westminster Abbey, conducted by Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury (a former Bishop of Durham) is attended by many public dignitaries including leaders of the Commonwealth nations such as Canadian president, Justin Trudeau and other world leaders. Amongst the other world leaders are President Biden of the United States and President Macron of France. The Westminster service is followed later by a more intimate service at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle attended by family and those close to the late Queen. Here the Queen’s coffin is finally lowered into the vault where she is laid to rest alongside her late husband, the Duke of Edinburgh; along with her sister Margaret; her father King George VI and her mother (Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, the Queen Mother). One of the Grenadier guards with the great honour of carrying the Queen’s coffin during the funeral is 19-year-old David Sanderson, from Morpeth in Northumberland.
The moving, yet sombre funeral ceremonies at Westminster and Windsor are watched by millions across the world. Perhaps the most poignant moment at both ceremonies is the sole sound of the pipes of the Queen’s Scottish piper fading into the distance. Major Paul Burns of Ingleby Barwick on Teesside, who serves in the Royal Scottish Regiment, is the man who performs this memorable lament. The fading sound of the pipes is symbolic, like much of the ceremony, of the passing of an era. May her late majesty rest in peace, she has been part of so many people’s lives for so long.
Sept 23, 2022 – Mini budget catastrophe
An extraordinary government ‘mini’ budget causes a huge political stir today. Instigated by new Chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, his budget includes a strange mix of expenditure and sweeping tax cuts, including the abolition of the 45% higher rate of income tax. Many experienced economists and financial experts question the budget’s affordability. The market reacts unfavourably with a notable effect being the pound hitting an all time low against the dollar. Even the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is critical of the budget suggesting it will cause inequalities. In another response, the Bank of England, fearing inflation, makes the biggest increase in interest rates in almost three decades. Other features of the ‘mini’ budget include plans for the creation of 38 new investment zones and the anticipated abolition of a limit on bankers’ bonuses. The Chancellor’s first public appearance following the budget is at Cummins engineering factory at Darlington in the Tees Valley – in part of the region the government seems keen to court. The Tees Valley authority, under mayor Ben Houchen has expressed an interest in becoming one of the new investment zones.
Sept 28, 2022 – Tees Freeport
Described by Teesside media and local Conservatives as the first and biggest ‘Freeport’ in the UK, Tees Freeport begins operating with the arrival of 100 tonnes of steel at South Bank on Teesside. Freeports are designed to cut red tape through business tax and customs incentives. The port’s backers hope to create thousands of jobs, although it is perhaps an irony that trade begins with the importing of steel into a river that was once renowned across the world for its steel-making prowess.
Sept, 2022 – Fracking, pollution, pyridine
Global warming and environmental concerns are important issues for many people and some are disappointed to see PM, Truss make a U-turn on fracking, with a determination to press ahead with this controversial method of drilling for oil and gas with a new general focus on fossil fuels rather than sustainable energy sources. Another, unrelated environmental concern is a threat from pollution to rivers, estuaries and coastal areas from sewage pumped by privately-owned water companies like Northumbrian Water, following recent loosening of regulations. It is an issue causing concern in the North East and elsewhere in the country. A third major environmental concern is the mass accumulation of dead crabs and lobsters along the region’s coast south of the Tees as far as Whitby. Scientists, including a study at Newcastle University identify the toxin, pyridine as the cause of the dead shellfish washed up in huge numbers on beaches such as Saltburn. Pyridine is a waste product of the steel industry and seems to be associated with recent dredging of the River Tees during development of the Teesworks industrial zone, a major development at Teesmouth associated with the much-lauded Conservative backed ‘Freeport’. The port is a particular source of prestige for Tees Valley mayor, Conservative, Ben Houchen. Questioned about this environmental concern on BBC Tees on September 29, PM Truss seems to have no knowledge of the issue. Meanwhile, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has published a statement expressing its ‘anger’ towards the government’s development plans in the ‘mini-budget’, notably the creation of investment zones that will free up development in specially protected and sensitive environmental zones.
Sept, 2022 – Twelve Tory years
Britain has been under the leadership of a succession of Conservative prime ministers for twelve years (since 2010) and the North East economy is struggling. According to recent reports in The Times and Sunday Times, based on information from the Office of National Statistics, the region has the lowest cumulative growth of any region or home country in ‘regional gross value added’. Statistics for this growth cover the period from the first quarter in 2010 to the final quarter of 2021. Growth in the North East during that period is 1.2%. This is well behind London’s 35.2%. As a whole the nation’s economy seems to have seen a major downturn during this extended period of Conservative dominance. During much of the 1980s, 1990s and through to 2015 the United Kingdom had been in the top six of the world’s largest exporters, closely competing with France and Japan, though not quite matching that of Germany. However, in 2016 UK exports dropped in ranking to seventh place and this ranking has continued to fall so that by 2019 the UK had fallen to eleventh place in the league table of world exports.
Sept, 2022 – Child poverty
Regrettably, the North East has the highest level of child poverty in the UK. Some 38% of babies, children and young people in the region lived below the poverty line in 2020/2021, an extraordinary 37% increase on the previous year. Across the nation ‘food banks’, have in recent years become a common and accepted feature of society, run by volunteers to provide basic food provisions to increasing numbers of people trapped in poverty. All of this before the ‘energy crisis’ cost of living challenge comes into full effect in the winter months of 2022-23. It is not helped that overall, according to the Mirror newspaper, Northerners earn £8,404 less than wealthier regions of the nation.
Oct 20, 2022 – Truss resigns after 45 days
Prime Minister, Liz Truss announces her resignation after 45 days in office. Her successor will be decided within a further week but she will still be the shortest-serving British prime minister in history. The PM has been under pressure to resign following the disastrous effects of her economic measures and policies. Her resignation follows the dismissal of Chancellor of the Exchequer, Kwasi Kwarteng on October 14 (he served for 38 days) and appointment of Jeremy Hunt in his place. Hunt almost completely reverses Mr Kwarteng’s devastating mini-budget that had been so closely tied to the narrowly focused economic vision of Truss.
Oct 24, 2022 – Police cuts encourage crime
The North East has one of the highest crime rates by region in the UK. According to data compiled by Statista the region recorded 91.7 crimes per 1,000 people in 2020/21 with only the Yorkshire and Humber region (91.9) having a worse record. In December 2019 the GMB Union noted there had been a loss of 23,500 police staff jobs in England and Wales since 2010. Cuts had been highest in London during Boris Johnson’s term as London mayor with the North East being the second worst affected region where almost a third of jobs were lost. Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner, Kim McGuinness, elected in 2019 and re-elected in 2021 noted that since 2010 Northumbria Police lost 1,100 officers without replacing police staff and £148 million was taken out of Northumbria’s budget. According to McGuinness, the 1,100 Northumbria police staff lost during the 10 year period of government austerity has subsequently seen a government ‘uplift’ that brought in only 685 replacement officers, leaving a deficit of 485 staff. Coupled with cuts to youth services and increasing poverty this makes the fight against crime in the region particularly challenging. The region’s other police forces: Durham, Cleveland and North Yorkshire face similar issues.
Oct 24, 2022 – Carrick’s Boro
Wallsend-born Michael Carrick is appointed manager of Middlesbrough as successor to the dismissed Chris Wilder. Uruguayan Leo Percovich served as caretaker prior to Carrick’s appointment.
Oct 24, 2022 – Sunak PM
Rishi Sunak becomes the new PM following a swift election in which he received 193 declared nominations from Conservative MPs. Rival candidate, Penny Mordaunt dropped out today, receiving 26 nominations. As the only candidate with more than 100 nominations, Sunak is elected without a need for votes from Conservative party members. Boris Johnson, who returned from a Caribbean holiday to drum up support for his own campaign received 58 declared nominations (though his campaigners claimed there were 102). He dropped out yesterday, though never formally declared his intention to run. Johnson’s supporters had included North East MPs, Anne-Marie Trevelyan (Berwick); Ian Levy (Blyth); Jill Mortimer (Hartlepool) and Levelling Up Secretary, Simon Clarke (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland). Tees Valley mayor, Ben Houchen (though unable to vote as he is not an MP) gave verbal support to Johnson. New PM, Sunak represents Richmond in North Yorkshire, a constituency that stretches north to the Tees. It includes Stokesley and Great Ayton near Middlesbrough, the market towns of Northallerton and Richmond and stretches west into Wensleydale. The previous MP for this constituency before 2015 was one-time Tory leader, William Hague. Sunak’s supporters include Darlington MP, Peter Gibson; NW Durham MP, Richard Holden; Hexham MP, Guy Opperman; Sedgefield MP, Paul Howell and Stockton South MP, Matt Vickers. Simon Clarke switched support from Johnson to Sunak after Johnson’s withdrawal. In North Yorkshire, MPs for Scarborough & Whitby; Thirsk & Malton; Harrogate & Knaresborough; Skipton & Ripon, nominated Sunak.
Oct 25, 2022 – PM wealthier than King
Richmond MP, Rishi Sunak officially becomes prime minister after a meeting with King Charles III at Buckingham Palace where the king invites him to form a government. Sunak, who has a background in banking was born in Southampton and privately educated at Winchester College boarding school in Hampshire, later graduating from Lincoln College, Oxford and Stamford College in California. A Hindu, Sunak is the UK’s first British-Asian, prime minister and the youngest since 1812. He has a net worth, along with his wife Akshata Murty of £730 million, about twice that of His Majesty King Charles III, making him quite possibly the wealthiest prime minister in Britain’s history. Sunak, who resides in a £6.6 million mansion in Kensington, London is also owner of the Manor House in Kirby Sigston village near Northallerton. Despite his northern home there are questions about his knowledge of northern geography. Recently challenged by a journalist asking if he would be spending more time in Scotland, he confirmed his commitment to the union with Scotland, saying he takes it ‘seriously’, citing his establishment, while Chancellor, of a new government Treasury office in Darlington, which is of course in England and far from the Scottish border.
Oct 25, 2022 – Six years : Five PMs
Sunak is the third Tory prime minister this year and the fifth in six years. He is the second in a row endorsed as the nation’s political leader without a general election, although he has been appointed to the role solely through nominations of democratically elected Conservative MPs. The year 2022 has several frequent changes in ministerial positions so far including four different Chancellors of the Exchequer and three different Home Secretaries. This has consequences for stable government and the ability to effectively implement policies. Sunak has made further changes to ministerial posts including the replacement of Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland MP, Simon Clarke with Michael Gove as Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. The Labour Party, who are ahead of the Conservatives in the polls are calling for a general election, though this isn’t due until, at the very latest, January 2025.
Nov 10, 2022 – NE mental health struggle
Poverty, stress, mental health issues and economic failures are having a huge impact in the region. Sadly, the North East now has the highest suicide rate in the nation. A report published today by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has highlighted the issues of anxiety, economic insecurity and mental distress in 2020s Britain. A striking and worrying feature of the report from the point of view of the North East is a map showing the ten communities in England with the highest rates of antidepressant prescriptions per 1,000 inhabitants. These ten communities include Barnsley in South Yorkshire and Blackpool and St Helens in the north west, along with every single community in the North East: Northumberland, County Durham, Newcastle-Gateshead, North Tyneside, South Tyneside, Sunderland and the Tees Valley.
Nov 23, 2022 – Blast Furnace demolished
The demolition of the blast furnace of the former Redcar steelworks at the mouth of the River Tees is completed this morning. It has long been an iconic site on the region’s coast, forming a striking backdrop to the beach at Redcar and also to the beach at Seaton Crew to the north of the Tees. The demolition is symbolic of the final passing of an industry that was once the very lifeblood of the River Tees.
Nov 25 & 27, 2022 – Investment for tourism
Tourist chiefs across the North East enthusiastically celebrate a new scheme restructuring regional tourism. The North East has been chosen to pilot the scheme with a £2.25 million investment from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport. The scheme resembles a return to the former regional tourist boards or tourism marketing responsibilities of former regional development agencies. The investment figure is specifically for testing a new initiative in restructuring. It is a modest figure, especially when spread across the seven North East local authorities (it does not include Tees Valley). Given the importance of tourism, it might be argued the region should expect much more than this. A figure of £2million might buy you a two bedroom apartment in central London. Indeed for perspective it is revealed this very week that the government has spent £1.5 million on a piece of art, namely a sculpture for Rishi Sunak’s Downing Street garden that is currently being installed.
Nov 27, 2022 – Lioness celebrity Queen
Sunderland-born England footballer, Jill Scott MBE is crowned ‘Queen of the Jungle’ in the 2022 series of the popular ITV reality show I’m a Celebrity… Get Me out of Here! receiving 57% of 12 million public votes. Jill is the third contestant from the region crowned winner of this show. The annual series, first broadcast in 2002, is hosted by Newcastle-born presenters Ant McPartlin and Declan Donnelly with previous winners including Newcastle’s Vicky Pattison in 2015 and Bishop Auckland’s Scarlett Moffat in 2016. The 2022 series has been the subject of much controversy for its inclusion of serving Conservative MP and former Health Secretary, Matt Hancock. Mr Hancock finished third place after spending three weeks in the Australian jungle with fellow TV contestants. During the height of the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown in 2021 when Hancock was Secretary of State for Health, he had resigned from his ministerial position after he was caught on CCTV breaking the strict social distancing regulations to engage in an extra-marital affair.
Dec 2022 – Winter of Discontent (Part 2)
Numerous strikes are set to hit the country as workers hold out for better pay. Many workers have found salaries have continuously fallen behind levels of inflation over long periods of time even before the present cost of living crisis. Strikers across the UK (some strikes localised) include railway workers, Royal Mail postal workers, nurses, paramedics, ambulance workers, highway workers, baggage handlers, driving examiners and university staff. Several other groups may also be considering strike action. The strikes have echoes of the so-called ‘Winter of Discontent’ of 1978-1979 which would play a part in the defeat of the Labour government – to which the trade unions were largely affiliated – in the 1979 election. Significant public sympathy seems to lie with the strikers and especially the nurses, despite the impact on Christmas.
Dec 10, 2022 – World Cup winter woes
England, sadly go out of the FIFA World Cup in the quarter final, losing 2-1 to reigning FIFA World Champions, France in Qatar. There had been much optimism about the England squad’s chances after the side successfully reached the UEFA Euro 2020, European Championship final last year. The England team again includes North East lads, Wearsiders Jordan Pickford and Jordan Henderson. For the first time since 2006 the squad also includes team members currently playing for a North East club with the inclusion of Newcastle United’s Kieran Trippier and England reserve goalkeeper Nicholas Pope. England successfully negotiated the group stage with wins over Iran and Wales and a goalless draw against the USA followed by a 3-0 victory over Senegal in the knock out stage in which Henderson scored the opening goal. France will go on to progress to the final where they are defeated by Argentina. The 2022 World Cup has been a most unusual tournament, set in the winter season for the first time to allow for the Qatar climate. It has been regarded by some as a controversial venue for a World Cup due to political, ethical, environmental and human rights concerns.
2022 – Sports Personality Mead
England international women’s footballer Beth Mead is voted the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year. Whitby’s Mead, a former Sunderland player was raised at Hinderwell on the Cleveland coast near Saltburn. She was part of the team that won the Euro 2022 final against Germany, one of the most memorable and joyful moments in an eventful year. Mead was top scorer in the competition.
Dec 28, 2022 – Devolution Deal
A devolution deal for North East England has been announced by Levelling Up secretary Michael Gove. Subject to consultation and approval it will see the establishment of a new combined authority under the leadership of an elected mayor (to be elected in May 2024) who will represent Northumberland, Newcastle upon Tyne, Gateshead, North Tyneside, South Tyneside, Sunderland and County Durham. The deal includes a core guaranteed £1.4 billion spread over 30 years. It will enable a business leader with local knowledge and networks to develop an investment plan and act in the interests of the region with dedicated money and power to make decisions regionally and attract investment.
The devolution deal encompasses a number of key areas including sustainable transport (bus and rail); adult education and skills (bringing together businesses and education establishments in the region); housing and regeneration (including new housing development powers on brown field sites). Should the proposals be approved, the existing North of Tyne Combined Authority and its directly elected mayor will cease to exist from May 2024 as too will the existing ‘North East Combined Authority’ (a combination of the four authorities south of the Tyne – Gateshead, South Tyneside, Sunderland, County Durham – that currently do not have a directly elected mayor). These confusingly named authorities came into being after an earlier attempt to combine all seven authorities fell through in 2016. The new authority will not include the combined Tees Valley (Middlesbrough, Stockton-on-Tees, Darlington, Hartlepool, Redcar & Cleveland) which already have their own (Conservative) elected mayor. The new North East devolution deal is one of a number that have come into being across the English regions during 2022 including a mayoral devolution deal for York and North Yorkshire.
Jan 19, 2023 – South Bias in Levelling Up
According to a report in The Times newspaper, ‘Levelling Up’ funds favour the South East of England which has been handed more money than the North East, Yorkshire and the West Midlands. However, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s wealthy Richmond in North Yorkshire constituency has been one of the northern beneficiaries of a successful Levelling Up bid. Other observers have noted that twice as many Conservative constituencies have benefitted from the Levelling Up distribution as those represented by Labour MPs. Of the seventy-four successful bids that can be matched to specific constituencies fifty are represented by Conservative MPs and twenty-three by Labour. Within the North East there have been some concerns about where the investment has been targeted inside the region with claims that it may be a ‘beauty contest’. One of the beneficiaries has been the new arena at Gateshead quayside. The Newcastle-Gateshead quayside area is undoubtedly a key focal point for the region that has received much investment and cultural focus in recent decades. Meanwhile, the Mayor of North Tyneside expressed disappointment and frustration at missing out on funding for regenerative developments at North Shields Fish Quay and Wallsend. Others might argue that now is the time for investment that tackles the Levelling Up issues of poverty and depravation rather than focusing on glamorous show-case projects.
Jan 21, 2023 – Panel : It’s not Pyridine
A government convened panel investigation into the deaths of thousands of crustaceans along the North East coast last year has concluded there was no link to pyridine poisoning or dredging at Teesport where a new showcase government-backed Freeport is being developed. Worryingly, the panel was unable to identify the cause but suggested it was most likely a novel pathogen. It also concluded there was no ‘capital dredging’ (dredging below the normal routine levels) in the lead up to the environmentally disastrous event. Some academic critics, noting the high toxic levels of pyridine identified in dead crabs are are not convinced by the desk-based investigation. It is claimed that no new work was undertaken during the investigation and that the panel may not have followed good scientific practice. Apart from the environmental effects, crustacean deaths have had a major impact on the livelihoods of fishermen on the region’s coast.
Feb 24, 2023 – Film Studio for Sunderland
A partnership is announced between Fulwell 73 Productions and Cain International (FulwellCain Studios) to build the Crown Works Studios in Sunderland that will be, according to Sunderland City Chief Executive, Patrick Melia, one of Europe’s largest High End TV and Film Studios. It is expected to create around 8,450 jobs across the North East over the next decade. The new studios will occupy land on the south bank of the River Wear on either side of the south approach to the Northern Spire bridge. Another studio in a huge former shipyard building in Pallion near the Queen Alexandra Bridge is already in the planning. The expected positive economic effects that the new studios will generate across the City of Sunderland and wider region are being compared to that generated by the establishment of the Nissan car plant in the 1980s. Fulwell 73 is an international television and film production company co-founded by Sunderland-born Leo Pearlman. The studio plans are subject to government approval.
May 6, 2023 – Coronation of Charles III
King Charles III is crowned at Westminster Abbey. Throughout the ceremony he is flanked by the Bishop of Durham, Paul Butler, on his right hand side with the Bishop of Bath and Wells, Michael Beasley, to the King’s left. The ceremony is conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the former Bishop of Durham, Justin Welby. The ceremony also sees the crowning of the Queen Consort, Camilla, whose coronation gown is designed by the Durham-raised fashion designer, Bruce Oldfield. Across the region, the red, white and blue flags decorate houses and some public buildings include displays to mark the crowning of the new monarch. Millions across the world watch the ceremony live on television, though the passion and reverence for royalty in the United Kingdom is perhaps not as strong as it was for the late Queen’s coronation in 1953. The impressive ceremony reflected the religious and ethnic diversity of modern Britain and emphasised the monarch’s role to serve rather than to be served.
Aug 20, 2023 – England defeat in world final
The England women’s team lose 1-0 to Spain in the FIFA World Cup final in Sydney, Australia, with a side featuring Northumberland-born Lucy Bronze and Harrogate-born Rachel Daly.
Sep 28/29, 2023 – Iconic tree destroyed
One of Britain’s best-loved trees, the famous sycamore at Sycamore Gap on Hadrian’s Wall has been destroyed overnight in an act of vandalism using a chainsaw. Much-photographed and loved by visitors to the region, the tree featured in the 1991 film Robin Hood Prince of Thieves. Many people are heartbroken by the irreversible loss of this beautiful natural icon that was superbly framed within a dip of the undulating whin sill landscape.