NE house prices grow the fastest in the UK, regional rail worries, and Geordies and Teessiders see their happiness improve

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Unemployment in the NE increased by 3,000 to 74,000 between June and August, which took the overall rate to 5.8% which was the highest in the country.

The South West continued to record the lowest rate at 2.4% with the UK rate at 3.9%. The South West also had the highest employment rate at 81.0% which compared with 71.2% in the NE. UK employment was 75.9%.

Two months ago, North East average property prices increased by 1.7%, the most in the UK. This was all reversed last month with prices dropping by 2.1%, but the latest figures show prices went up again, this time by 3.1%, to £134,736.

The monthly uplift was the highest in the UK and took the annual increase to 3.3%. In comparison, UK prices grew by 0.8% to £234,853 during August, an annual growth rate of 1.3%.

The ONS’s Personal Well-being (or Happiness) Index has ranked the NE second out of the 12 UK ‘regions’ in terms of improved life satisfaction, only Londoners’ happiness improved  more. Average anxiety also improved in the NE over the last six years, with only folk from the East and North West of England less anxious.

Overall though, the Northern Irish were still the happiest in the UK with Londoners still the most miserable.

Development

In Middlesbrough, an £8m technology centre is to be built at a research facility on a former ironworks. The Welding Institute extension is part of the £55m Teesside Advanced Manufacturing Park. Half the funding has come from the EU’s regional development fund.

Also in Middlesbrough, a £250m project could see the town becoming a leading digital city. An initial £45m phase will see three 20-storey office and residential towers built, which will be the highest buildings within a 30 mile radius.

Also planned is a 750-seat indoor amphitheatre beneath a glass atrium and a 400-seat outdoor arena to host events such as lectures and concerts. The scheme will be funded jointly by the Tees Valley Combined Authority and Middlesbrough Council.

Jobs

Hays Travel staff have been moving to their new three-storey head office  in Keel Square, Sunderland, from four separate sites across the city centre over the last few months. 

Overall, headcount was about 1,000 in the city before the firm bought all 555 Thomas Cook stores in the UK for £6m, saving up to 2,500 jobs. Over 100 new jobs will be based in the Sunderland headquarters as a result of the deal.

About 3,000 of Nissan’s 7,000 workers are being moved from night shifts to day-time working which will be sufficient to maintain the existing 440,000 cars a year output. Some of this production will be the new Juke model which started being built this month.

The plant also makes the Qashqai and electric Leaf models. Earlier this year, the firm announced it was ending the production of two of its Infiniti cars with the loss of 250 jobs.

The government will open talks with other bidders for British Steel after failing to agree terms with Ataer Holding during the exclusivity period which started in August. Hundreds of workers are employed by British Steel in the North East, at sites near Redcar; at Skinningrove, east Cleveland; and at Blaydon.

Chemicals firm Ineos has launched a consultation on the potential closure of the Seal Sands Acrylonitrile plant on Teesside. Other activities at the site may safeguard some jobs but 220 posts are at risk.

Transport

The Northern Powerhouse Partnership’s Independent review into HS2 called ‘HS2 North’ was introduced in Parliament this month by the Northern Powerhouse All Party Parliamentary Group.

The key recommendation of the report is the establishment of HS2 North, a private sector special purpose vehicle modelled on the Olympic Delivery Authority which would integrate HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail.

HS2 North would be arms-length from government, contracting with private sector delivery partners and Network Rail, and overseen by Transport for the North.

Whilst no one doubts that HS2 will bring significant benefits to the Northern economy, this report, and a second Northern Powerhouse Partnership report, ‘HS2 and the Economy of the North’, identifies that further detailed work needs to be undertaken to pin down the economic benefits that the new line would bring.

Separately, CBI East Midlands, West Midlands, Yorkshire and Humber, London, the North East and North West regional directors also urged the government to build the HS2 rail project in full.

However, a paper by the Adam Smith Institute, also released this month, claims that HS2 will deliver limited benefits and that some Northern cities could lose direct trains to London.

The paper instead recommends upgrading existing routes with new signalling, doubling the number of tracks, reopening mothballed lines, building new sections of railway and targeting bottlenecks at key junctions.

Also on the trains, the government is considering whether the management of Northern Rail should be taken into public hands. The Department for Transport confirmed it was developing contingency plans with either a new short-term management contract with Northern or the Operator of Last Resort (‘OLR’) (effectively the Government).

The OLR is currently in charge of London North East Railway, the East Coast Mainline intercity franchise. Northern is a large, more complex commuter network, so the government is likely to take-on a more supervisory role, with Northern still able to run day-to-day services and take the blame.

In a bad month for Northern, politicians demanded that passengers still having to use the 1980s-built rail-buses called Pacer trains should be offered reduced fares. Northern had planned to withdraw them all by the end of this year but some will be retained into 2020 as a result of delays in the construction and delivery of new trains from manufacturer CAF.

The Pacers, a joint venture between British Rail and British Leyland, were originally constructed from the body of a bus and were intended to have a maximum lifespan of 20 years. In fairness though the Pacer is a survivor, other British Leyland vehicles from the 1980s like the Austin Maxi and Morris Marina have long gone

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