THE leaders of Sunderland and Newcastle were locked in a virtual “civil war” over economic growth, a Government advisor has claimed.
Sir Ian Wrigglesworth, deputy chairman of the Regional Growth Fund and chairman of the Port of Tyne, said there was a “considerable mess” over the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), set up to boost economic growth by bringing together council and business leaders.
It is understood that earlier this year there was disagreement behind closed doors at the LEP over where to place an enterprise zone, offering tax incentives to new firms setting up in part of the North East.
Five councils – Sunderland, Durham, North and South Tyneside and Northumberland – backed proposals for a zone along the A19.
Their aim was to build on the success of the region’s existing low carbon economy in the hope of creating 11,000 jobs from Blyth to Murton.
Newcastle and Gateshead, however, favoured an alternative plan to concentrate on city centre renewal, with a new shopping district for Newcastle, a new town centre for Gateshead and development of the Farringdon Row, Stadium Park and Vaux brewery sites in Sunderland, expected to create more than 32,000 jobs.
Bids for the two different zones were put forward causing a divide within the region.
The five councils backing the A19 corridor plan were successful in getting approval for their scheme.
Speaking at the Lib Dem conference, Sir Ian said: “In the northern part of the North East, we have had an absolute nightmare.
“I mean there is almost a civil war between Sunderland and Newcastle, not only on the football pitch.
“There are tremendous rivalries and getting an LEP together in that area has been a nightmare.
“As a result of that, we’ve ended up with a considerable mess.”
His comments were today dismissed by council chiefs.
Sunderland City Council leader Paul Watson, who played a key role in bringing the £200million enterprise zone to the area, said: “I am unaware Sir Ian Wrigglesworth has had any involvement in the local discussions regarding the formation of our partnership.
“If he has specific instances with regard to the formation, then he should ask those who know and he would receive an informed response.
“As a person who carried out these discussions on behalf of Sunderland, I can say we never had a cross word.
“If there is any war on, it has completely passed me by.”