To a fanfare welcome from Tory Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen, the area’s two new development corporations are taking shape even before they have been approved by law. The members of the two boards for Middlesbrough Development Corporation and Hartlepool Development Corporation have just been announced. They include the familiar figures on the merry-go-round of committees in the world of regeneration.
Who are on the boards?
Among Middlesbrough’s appointees will be the independent Middlesbrough Mayor, Andy Preston, who worked in finance in London before moving to Middlesbrough to invest in property developments. According to his declaration of interests for South Tees Development Corporation, he has 28 businesses and charities.
The Middlesbrough Deputy Mayor, Cllr Mieka Smiles, is also included. A former journalist on the Hartlepool Mail and Teesside Live, she represents leafy Nunthorpe. Smiles is one of three Tory councillors at Middlesbrough Town Hall. She was appointed as Deputy Mayor in June last year by Andy Preston after her predecessor resigned in protest at Preston’s conduct. She also sits on the Town Deal Board, is chair of both the Works Council and the Transporter Taskforce, as well as being a board member at South Tees Development Corporation and Tees Valley Unlimited Local Enterprise Partnership.
Paul Booth, formerly of Sabic Petrochemicals UK, takes his place at the Middlesbrough table. Now retired from the chemical industry, his many current appointments include Chair of the North East Process Industry Cluster (NEPIC), Chair of the Tees Valley Unlimited Local Enterprise Partnership, and board member of Plastics Europe North. He is also the company director at Imaginatives Group Ltd which act as consultants on new cities, among other projects.
Idrees Rashid is the Operations Director of BME Network CIC. He is known for his involvement in a community radio station. He also has an interest in two companies in the property sector.
Selected for the Hartlepool board is Cllr Shane Moore, Leader of Hartlepool Borough Council. Moore has extensive experience of right-wing politics, having been a member of the Tories, Ukip and the Brexit Party. He is now in Independent Union that was created with other former Ukip councillors. When he was working as a tanker driver he gained two drunk-driving convictions. Moore was also appointed by Tory Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen as his Deputy Mayor.
The Hartlepool board also includes Learning Curve Group’s CEO Brenda McLeish, Lisa Molloy, of construction firm Strabag; Simon Corbett CEO of Orangebox Training Solutions, and Sarah Bedford who is a director at HMB accountants.
Cleveland’s Tory Crime Commissioner Steve Turner will be a member of both committees while Cleveland Police Chief Constable Mark Webster and the ubiquitous Julie Gilhespie, Chief Executive of Houchen’s Tees Valley Combined Authority (TVCA) will be associate members.
Hartlepool’s Managing Director Denise McGuckin and Middlesbrough’s Chief Executive Tony Parkinson will also be associate members on their respective boards
Of all the members on the two boards, just three – Preston, Moore and Smiles – are elected politicians. The Labour Party, which has 13 councillors at Hartlepool town hall and is the largest party at Middlesbrough, with 21 councillors, is not represented.
While separate audit and governance committees are expected to be formed, at the moment there is no information about future scrutiny.
The boards are aiming to “cut red tape” and “speed up development” according to Houchen. He said:
“When the designations are approved by government, we can hit the ground running and waste no time in bringing about the improvements that local people deserve – breathing new life into our centres, making our streets safer and cleaner and attracting new businesses.”
The boards will meet quarterly, their aim being to find ways to attract private investment and transform the town centres. The hope is to have the two development corporations operational by the end of this year. If the corporations get the green light from central government, the Middlesbrough project will focus on the town centre and Middlehaven, while Hartlepool’s will include the Oakesway Business Park and land.
The development corporations’ powers to “cut red tape” seem to refer to planning laws but it’s unclear which. Will they be able to cut regulations on the environment and sewerage?
The corporations will also have the power to transfer public assets into private hands. Will the land transferred be sold at the market rate or at a discount? Or, like 90% of Teesworks Ltd, will it be gifted to private developers?
The development corporations would, it was hoped, operate within the applied-for investment zones which would allow them to retain all business rates instead of relinquishing half the value to central government. Whether this would leave the town halls losing control over business rate income is open to question. In the event, it appears that the investment zones initiative might be scrapped by central government in its cost-cutting efforts.
The rationale behind the development corporations is that growth achieved by removing regulations and rewarding private developers will benefit everyone equally. It’s a theory embraced by former PM Liz Truss and ex-Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng during their short-lived partnership, and continued with PM Rishi Sunak.
The idea is not without its critics. Says Middlesbrough’s Labour MP Andy Macdonald:
“We were promised ‘levelling up’ and now we’re getting ‘trickle down economics”
Houchen’s TVCA has committed £10m each to the two boards.
In September, Middlesbrough was reported to expect a black hole of £9 million in its budget, with greater financial demands including from children’s services.
At present two in five Middlesbrough children are living in poverty.