Twenty four thousand new jobs, billions of pounds worth of investment and key decisions made here and not in London.

A newly-created North East Investment Zone; along with significant new funding for transport, housing, and adult education and skills.

These are just a few of the exciting prospects that lie ahead for our region, thanks to the North East devolution deal.

And as we look ahead to the North East Combined Authority formally coming into being from May 2024, the benefits of County Durham joining this deal are already being secured.

January saw the announcement that The North East Technology Park (NETPark) at Sedgefield – which is identified as a key priority within the deal - will be part of the regional Investment Zone.

The Investment Zone will see the region benefit from £160m of funding over the next 10 years, unlocking hundreds of millions of pounds of investment from the private sector and creating up to 4,000 new jobs.

Being part of the Investment Zone will massively boost NETPark, which is already undergoing a £62m expansion largely funded by Durham County Council, and has just been confirmed as one of only two Growth Sites in the region. 

At Growth Sites, the local authority and businesses will have priority access to significant flexible funding which, it is intended, will finance skills, research and capital investment.

“The funding will help existing businesses to thrive, attract new major companies to locate with us and importantly, enable infrastructure funding to unlock further future expansion,” explains Cllr James Rowlandson, Durham County Council’s Cabinet member for resources, investment and assets.

And soon after the announcement, further good news was to come for NETPark and the wider County Durham and North East.

‘Early’ devolution funding of more than £20m was announced for both the park and county council-led plans for Aykley Heads. The latter will see Aykley Heads become part of a new and globally significant Durham Innovation District, in partnership with the world-class Durham University – with the site another key priority within the deal.

Darlington and Stockton Times: How Aykley Heads might look once developed as part of the globally significant Durham Innovation DistrictHow Aykley Heads might look once developed as part of the globally significant Durham Innovation District (Image: Durham County Council)

"Aykley Heads and NETPark provide jobs for our residents and are key to economic success both locally and for the wider North East,” reflects Cllr Amanda Hopgood, Leader of Durham County Council.

“This funding will accelerate the redevelopment of land at Aykley Heads as part of an exciting new Innovation District, and contribute to the emerging phase three at NETPark in Sedgefield.”

NETPark receives £10.7m and Aykley Heads £9.2m.

And in another boost for County Durham, the local authority holds the interim portfolio of culture, creative, tourism and sport on the new North East Combined Authority, created through the devolution deal, which is formally established after the mayoral election on 2 May.

Darlington and Stockton Times: The new North East Combined Authority will champion all the region has to offer including World Heritage Site Durham CathedralThe new North East Combined Authority will champion all the region has to offer including World Heritage Site Durham Cathedral (Image: Durham County Council)

This feels fitting given Durham’s claim to be the ‘Culture County,’ on the back of becoming the first county ever to be shortlisted for UK City of Culture status.

The county’s credentials for having the tourism portfolio are also second to none with Durham’s visitor economy having been worth more than £1billion in 2022.

Of course it will be the new authority’s job to champion not just County Durham but the whole of the North East as a place to live, work and visit.

The new combined authority is being set up under the leadership of the seven council leaders in County Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle, North Tyneside, Northumberland, South Tyneside and Sunderland.

It will oversee a £4.2bn investment package which includes:

· An investment fund of £1.4bn, or £48m a year, to support inclusive economic growth and support regeneration

· An indicative budget of around £1.8bn, or £60m a year, for adult education and skills – to meet local skills priorities and improve opportunities for residents

· A £900m package of investment to transform our transport system, with £563m from the City Regional Sustainable Transport Fund, on top of funding already announced for our buses and metro system

· £69m of investment in housing and regeneration, unlocking sites to bring forward new housing and commercial development

As well as the 24,000 jobs, devolution is expected to unlock an additional £5bn in private sector investment.

The deal also included scope for the region to enter into ‘trailblazer’ negotiations to enable the North East to play a leading role in further devolution of powers and investment in the future.

Devolution has prompted some to describe 2024 as transformative, momentous and historic for our region. It is easy to see why.