Revitalising and preserving the North East's manufacturing heritage | Wates
Neil-Matthias

Revitalising and preserving the North East's manufacturing heritage

After months of no-deal worry, my native North East has finally received some good news, with major manufacturers reaffirming their commitments to keep their operations based in the region following the Government’s securing of a trade deal to leave the EU.

Neil Matthias, Operations Director.

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The threat of large businesses particularly those in the automotive industries – abandoning North East factories understandably caused huge concern for the region. For many years, its long history as a hub of engineering excellence has been chipped away as the UK’s economy shifted from manufacturing towards services.

As a nation, we risk losing the wealth of experience held in the North East without continued investment from both Government and businesses into creating the future manufacturing giants of tomorrow.

The manufacture of electric cars is an obvious example of where, with the right investment, the North East could be a superpower. The decades of automotive expertise held in the region could be easily applied to the development of lithium batteries used in electric vehicles.

Elsewhere, our region is primed to support other highly technical industries, already hosting a large portion of the country’s recycling infrastructure, carbon reduction projects and renewable energy capability. For example, the Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult, in Blyth – which I had the privilege of helping deliver – is currently leading the development of new wind power technology, while our recently completed National Horizons Centre for Teesside University has bolstered the UK’s growing bioscience industry, and is even supporting the current fight against COVID-19 by helping manufacture vaccines.

So how can construction help?

I hope that many more internationally renowned manufacturing companies choose to invest in the North East. But building these new industries will first require constructing the facilities to enable them.

This has got to be done holistically, in a way that will support the region even further, through both the construction process and the final asset. Supply chain spend should be kept within the region wherever possible, while large projects should create a considerable number of new jobs and training opportunities for local people, to help them learn valuable skills that will support them long after that project is finished.

I’ve already seen how vital this is through delivering two projects which are among my proudest career achievements so far.

When creating Hitachi Rail Europe’s new manufacturing plant in County Durham, it was vital that we gave back as much as possible to the local community throughout the £82m build. It created nearly 200 new construction jobs with 90 per cent of spend from within a 50 mile radius, while also supporting 12 new apprenticeships.

At the previously mentioned ORE Catapult, we ensured more than 60 per cent of spend was with businesses within a 40-mile radius, employed 17 apprentices and provided site visits for 130 construction students at the nearby Northumbria University. The project also had a profound impact on Blyth locals, with an Open Doors event bringing more than 220 people to the site to find out more.

Local experts

This consideration of local communities goes beyond just job creation. The North East is a diverse and nuanced region, and taking the time to understand the history of each area and what each needs will greatly help potential international investors create the best facility possible. On both the above projects, I worked closely with the client to advise on exactly what we needed to deliver and local stakeholders to consider, to help make sure all ran smoothly and the builds provided a lasting legacy for the region.

I genuinely care about the future of the North East it is my home, it is where I work, and I am immensely proud of both its heritage and potential. With further investment from major companies, alongside the considerate building of new facilities, I hope that we can once again be a world leader in manufacturing and engineering excellence to futureproof our region for years to come.

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