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A New Way of Governing Historic Tees

by Andrew Lewis, Managing Director, Tees Valley Combined Authority

Our primary responsibility as a Combined Authority has to be the creation of good quality jobs, and the attraction of new investment. Ours is an area of significant social and economic challenges, but also great opportunity. We believe that by making more decisions locally, rather than from a central government based 250 miles away, we can improve our economy and provide better opportunities for local citizens. We have successfully attracted new businesses, and supported local companies to grow and take on and train new employees. We are developing ambitious plans to improve our road, rail and bus services, and to connect the Tees Valley into national and international transport networks. We are supporting an expansion of superfast broadband, developing investable proposals for the expansion of key sectors, and helping thousands of young people gain access to employment and training.

We are not a planning authority, and work closely with the five partner councils, to balance the needs of the economy and environment within their local communities. As an area which hosts one of the most significant industrial clusters in Europe, we are accustomed to managing these trade-offs effectively. Our local councils have hosted vital national industrial assets, while at the same time creating a great local environment, at the foot of the North York Moors, and on the banks of the one of the country's great river estuaries.

Middlesbrough Transporter Bridge at night
Middlesbrough Transporter Bridge connects Middlesbrough on the south bank of the River Tees to Port Clarence on the north bank © Historic England

The historic environment is an asset in our economic development plans, not a barrier to their delivery. The Tees Valley is an area with a rich and distinct heritage. As the home of Captain Cook and Gertrude Bell, we attract international interest. In 2025 we will celebrate 200 years of passenger rail transport, which began in Stockton and Darlington, and we've already started planning for a major internationally-significant anniversary. Our landscape is a product of the later phases of the industrial revolution - the famous Middlesbrough Transporter Bridge and the great expansion of the iron, steel, chemical and process industries. This is now recognised as a critical period of our economic history which needs to be celebrated and explored, and from which we can learn lessons for effective innovation and technological development for the future.

We are the only devolution area to have specifically referenced culture in our deal with government. We are developing a programme of investment in our cultural assets, creating a stronger partnership between our museums and local attractions, and strengthening our destination marketing and management functions. For several years the Tees Valley has been absent from regional and national partnerships to strengthen the visitor economy; and we're now working more actively with colleagues in Welcome to Yorkshire, the North East Tourism Alliance and Visit England, and seeking joint investment deals with the Arts Council. With Middlesbrough FC in the Premier League, we are strengthening our collaboration with the football club to exploit the huge opportunities of having a global premier league brand on our doorstep.

As an example, we are working with Redcar and Cleveland Council to support the development of the Kirkleatham Estate, which this year hosted 30,000 visitors to the highly successful Festival of Thrift, and will be sympathetically developed to support new businesses and training facilities using our local investment funds.

Kirkleatham stables
Kirkleatham Stables on the Kirleatham Estate which in 2016 hosted 30,000 visitors to the highly successful Festival of Thrift © Historic England

We need to do more to promote our historic and cultural attractions - to attract visitors, but also to build local commitment and confidence. We can have pride in our past, and pride in our future too.

Working in partnership with Historic England, the Combined Authority will see a more joined-up approach to connecting people and place and understanding what heritage means to the people of Tees Valley. We are using our region's distinctive heritage to support our ambitions for 2025 City of Culture and improve opportunities for investment. We are also using a place based approach to culture and heritage in our Tees Valley-wide bid for Great Places, for which we will know the outcome in spring 2017.

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