As we look back on 2018 and forward to the New Year, it is difficult to see beyond the fog of Brexit and the sense of uncertainty about the political situation. Some of the progress being made in areas that affect our lives is easily overlooked.
There have been huge strides in infrastructure in Northumberland. Now nearly 93 per cent of Northumberland homes have access to superfast broadband, which is no mean feat.
Perhaps the biggest project is the A1 works – dualling to Ellingham and improvement works up to Berwick.
In terms of the former, now that the route has been determined Highways England has submitted a Development Consent Order, which it hopes will receive approval in the New Year, allowing it to appoint contractors. This will mean work can commence on schedule in March 2020.
I still receive emails from residents asking for updates. I do recommend signing up to the Highways England A1 In Northumberland team’s progress alerts to stay up to date.
Residents of Berwick will have noticed that huge investment continues in the town. I had the pleasure of opening the new jetty, the first part of £2million investment in modernising our port, funded by the Government’s Coastal Communities Fund. The same fund awarded over £300,000 to the new Welcome Centre, run by Berwick Community Trust. And the Coastal Revival Fund, has awarded over £40,000 to the Wildlife Discovery Centre in Hauxley.
The Government also awarded Northumberland over £7million for pothole fixing and road maintenance, the largest lump sum in the North East.
The historic North of Tyne Devolution Deal was signed, which transfers powers and funding from Westminster. The deal, which has been years in the planning, includes Newcastle, North Tyneside and Northumberland councils and is expected to generate £1.1billion for the local economy, 10,000 new jobs, and drive over £2.1billion in private sector investment.
It also includes over £600million of Government funding (£20million a year for 30 years) for digital skills, science and rural growth; the creation of a North of Tyne Combined Authority; a directly-elected North of Tyne Mayor with the election planned for May 2019; and an Inclusive Growth Board to take forward skills and employment reforms, including a North of Tyne Education Improvement Challenge in schools.
Farmers have been sharing their thoughts on the Agriculture Bill, which looks at how we shape policy to suit our own producers and consumers as we move beyond the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, which has seen us fund farmers’ competitors to the tune of £3billion per year.
Leaving the EU creates a once in a generation opportunity to design a domestic agricultural policy that will stand the test of time. We can bring innovative ideas to support investment in healthy, sustainable British food production and do much better for farming, the environment and animal welfare.
The Government proposes to move to a system of paying farmers public money for public good: principally environmental enhancement. I am meeting farmers in the New Year to talk about the plans.
The New Year will see more Brexit discussions as we vote on the Prime Minister’s proposed deal. She knows that I cannot support the present “Northern Ireland Protocol” (backstop), which if triggered would leave us stuck in the customs union, unable to leave or strike trade deals.
I will continue to support her efforts to find a legally-binding solution, and to prepare the country for leaving in March 2019 without a firm deal in place.
Wishing all who live in and love Northumberland a very healthy and peaceful New Year.