Womble Bond Dickinson managing associate John Booth believes Teesside can once again be an economic powerhouse for the North-East region…
It was a few years ago now that a colleague, Tom Graham, who is Teesside born and bred, first mentioned ‘infant Hercules’ to me.
I too am a North-Easterner, having grown up in County Durham, and now work and practice in Newcastle at Womble Bond Dickinson’s largest of its network of 27 offices in locations across the UK and the United States. However, it wasn’t something I had heard before.
I previously worked in the firm’s Teesside office for around six years before I relocated to Newcastle. During that six-year period I became much better acquainted with Teesside, its history and the huge role industry played, and continues to play, in its economy and the lives of its tightly-knit communities.
“This remarkable place, the youngest child of England’s enterprise, is an infant, but if an infant, an infant Hercules”, is what I now know William Gladstone said of Middlesbrough in 1862 when the town was at the heart of the industrial revolution.
Unfortunately, the prosperity of the town and Teesside has taken a number of knocks, most recently and notably with the closure of the steelmaking plant at Redcar by Thai-owned SSI after over 100 years of production at a cost of roughly 2,000 jobs.
Anywhere would feel the consequences of such a devastating blow, and a walk through some of the most affected towns or a review of government-published statistics emphasises the difficulty the area continues to face in picking up the pieces. Hopefully, things are about to change.
Ben Houchen, the Tees Valley’s elected mayor, is pursuing an ambitious investment and regeneration programme which, as many will know, involves a plan to completely reinvigorate the redundant steel works that have been idle and decaying since SSI went into liquidation.
We at Womble Bond Dickinson were delighted to have been appointed to act for the newly-created South Tees Development Corporation in its acquisition of over half of the area identified for regeneration.
The corporation, or STDC for short, is a mayoral development corporation established by statute with powers to acquire, compulsorily if necessary, land for investment and development.
STDC is the first corporation of its kind established outside London, which is noteworthy in itself considering the number of other areas across the country looking to secure inward investment, but most importantly it has now acquired TATA’s land – we completed the deal on February 22 and, as a result, STDC now owns a site which the mayor has highlighted previously is not far from the size of Gibraltar.
The deal was complex and challenging, but, by working with an excellent STDC team, as well as the pro-active team from TATA, we brought it to a successful conclusion and very much look forward to seeing what happens next.
This really could be the beginning of something huge in terms of providing jobs, prosperity and growth for a region that deserves a big break; indeed, STDC representatives are already talking to several interested parties with a view to reaching agreements to secure the first of that inward investment.
We are extremely proud of what we do on Teesside. We hope to continue our relationship with STDC in the long-term, but we also act for some of the region’s most important and high-profile businesses.
We are fortunate to count Sembcorp, Venator, Cecil M Yuill Limited, Teesside University and Middlesbrough College, amongst many others, within our Teesside client base and look forward to continuing our active involvement as the only local truly full service offering in providing the best quality commercial advice for our clients as the region takes its first steps to establishing itself once again as an industrial and economic Hercules.