WATCH: Green Party leader Natalie Bennett sees Sunderland's future as an eco-friendly engineering giant

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Sunderland should become a booming engineering city at the cutting-edge of green technology - surrounded by "rings of market gardens" providing its food.

That was the vision set out by Green Party leader Natalie Bennett as she visited Wearside as part of a tour of the North East.

Natalie Bennett and Rachel Featherstone. Picture by Daniel Krzyszczak.

Natalie Bennett and Rachel Featherstone. Picture by Daniel Krzyszczak.

Ms Bennett, who led the party through the 2015 General Election, set out her stall for the city and the region as party members and members of the public gathered to hear her speak at the city's National Glass Centre.

She said: "What we've got in this area is a great engineering tradition that goes back centuries, and what we've got to do is get that great tradition developing sustainably.

The Australian-born politician said there were many opportunities in the renewable energy sector, and it was "really sad" that other countries around the world were at risk of leaving the UK behind.

"It would be a massive missed opportunity if all the development in renewable technology happened overseas, and we end up buying our technology from other countries when it could be developed here," she said.

Natalie Bennett.  Picture by Daniel Krzyszczak.

Natalie Bennett. Picture by Daniel Krzyszczak.

In recent years there has been much talk of Sunderland playing an important role in the offshore wind farm industry.

But Ms Bennett said the city's coastal location made it suitable for another important area of the green energy sector.

"One of the really exciting areas of development is tidal power. There's research going on here, and down in Swansea Bay in Wales they've got a fully-developed project of what could be the first of five tidal lagoons that could provide nine per cent of Britain's energy needs within 10 years," she said.

"This is new technology which could be exported around the world. Think of good business opportunities we could have - opportunities for designers, for factories.

Natalie Bennett with Sunderland Green Party members. Picture by Daniel Krzyszczak.

Natalie Bennett with Sunderland Green Party members. Picture by Daniel Krzyszczak.

"Huge opportunities which would be taking action to tackle the climate crisis, but also very much tackling the crisis in our economy."

Ms Bennett was also full of praise for the efforts of Nissan and its partners to make Wearside a global capital of electric car production.

"I do a lot of travelling around the country and getting in Green Party members' cars, and I find myself in a lot of Nissan Leafs," she said.

"I think they're excellent and Nissan is doing great things in what is a really exciting area."

The Green Party leader also hailed Sunderland's new direct rail services to London by Virgin, though said she was disappointed at the loss of East Coast and said she was a firm believer in renationalising the railways.

Ms Bennett said she was also in favour of increasing regional services and reopening mothballed lines such as the Leamside Line to improve transport and boost business in the North East and elsewhere.

She also said she wanted to see the rural areas around Sunderland used to grow more food for the city, with a "ring of market gardens" providing a more sustainable means of farming.

The Green leader said support for her members have been growing significantly in the past few years and the party was hoping to win its first seat on Sunderland City Council in May.

Ms Bennett is moving on to South Tyneside on Friday, where she is visiting solar firm Advanced Renewable Power Ltd as part of a tour of the borough.

She is also guest of honour at a fundraiser at The County pub in South Shields in the evening. Tickets cost £5 via ticketsource.co.uk/date/208785