To ensure the Tees Valley is somewhere that people want to live, work, play and invest we need to rebuild a sense of community and regional pride. This means thriving communities and public spaces; giving our high streets the help they need to reinvent themselves for the 21st century. Harnessing a booming culture and tourism scene, making the most of our fantastic assets from coast to country; improving infrastructure and investing in arts, leisure and heritage. It means people are listened to, that communities are involved in shaping and influencing the things that happen to them. It also means ensuring that everyone has a good quality home and a transport system fit for the 21st century.
Here are my top four ideas for seeing the Tees Valley Thrive.
Tackle Social Isolation and Exclusion
Tackling loneliness and social isolation makes social and economic sense. Connected communities are safer, healthier and more prosperous. We must ensure we plan to tackle social isolation in terms of planning, i.e. what type of housing, what local amenities are needed and what are the vital ingredients for building communities such as green spaces, communal land for parks and allotments. We should also work across health and local authorities to ensure there are community hubs offering advice and guidance around wellbeing, safety, employability and training.
Giving People a Voice
I’m committed to devolution, hand-in-hand with ways of dealing with the democratic deficit that exists in the current Mayoral model. We need to bring politics and people together which means we must close the gap between the mayor and those they serve. I think a citizen’s assembly for Tees Valley could be a great way to close the gap, giving residents a direct forum in which to talk with me and others about the issues that affect them. All our policies need to be thoroughly informed by the concerns of local people. Only by working together and engaging with each other will we transform the Tees Valley.
Revive Our Highstreets
Our High Streets have faced pressure from all sides: poor maintenance by property owners, the growth of internet shopping and also the impact of out-of-town developments. We’ve lost not only shops but centres of community. To rectify this we need to help High Streets to diversify their offer, securing its future as a public space for community.
Let’s work with local authorities and landlords to repurpose vacant retail spaces to provide housing, leisure opportunities, learning spaces, accommodation for micro-businesses and new businesses. We could also encourage the opening up of High Street space to arts and community groups. Local artists, musicians and drama groups are an important part of the rich cultural life of the Tees Valley and add tremendous value.
Developing Culture and Tourism
Destination Tees Valley
From the stunning coastline of East Cleveland, to the iconic Roseberry Topping; our brilliant and growing events and markets to such as Orange Pip Market, Hartlepool Live, to our cultural venues of Mima, Arc, and Head of Steam; we have huge opportunities and assets that could truly make the Tees Valley a national destination. We must build and develop this area and value it for the real catalyst for regeneration that it could be. This means securing landmark projects of national significance, it means leveraging much greater inward investment whilst building the much-needed tourism infrastructure from transport to accommodation.
Championing Arts and Culture
Being born and bred in Teesside I know that our region’s culture has so much to offer. We have some of the worlds greatest musicians, playing in the backrooms of dusty pubs and awe inspiring artists painting images that may never be seen. Every creative deserves the opportunity to turn their passion into a livelihood. This means creating space, training, investment and resources for people to take the next step. It means having the learning institutions and the cultural venues, plus the transport links to get from A to B.
Transforming Tees Valley Transport
For many people needing to get around, for work, education or leisure, our buses and trains play a crucial part. Yet transport is a sector in which the market has failed to deliver, leading to enormous frustration for travellers. This is why Labour’s pledge to bring Britain’s hopeless train network and buses into public ownership has been so popular.
A Joined-Up Network
Let’s bring buses under the strategic control of the Combined Authority. A study into rural isolation in Tees Valley is needed too, bringing forward recommendations on reversing the loss of bus services. Rail is also vital. Middlesbrough is well situated to become a hub for travel within the region with train links to Saltburn, Redcar, Whitby and the Esk Valley. It could be further developed as a transit point for weekend trips from Newcastle, Durham, Darlington and other urban centres. With a Labour Government bringing rail back in public ownership we could release funding for transport integration across the region, including developing Darlington as a major Hub into the national rail network.
Affordability and Alternatives
Currently travel passes don’t represent good value. We need to fix this, as part of upgrading to a simple tap-in-tap-out ticketing system. London and other regions can do this, so why not us? Weekend transport discounts for Teesside residents would promote transport and mobility within the region. Let’s also turn more disused railway lines into greenways and cycle lanes. A great network of cycleways in Teesside could facilitate both green commuting and attract sports tourism.