COMMUNITIES and Local Government Minister, praised the ‘clear vision’ of the North East during a visit of major new investments across the region.

The North East Local Enterprise Partnership (Lep) hosted Baroness Stowell’s tour of sites which began with her turning the first soil at the £7m Neptune National Centre for Subsea and Offshore Engineering at Shepherd Offshore on the North Bank of the Tyne.

The centre, which is being led by Newcastle University, is the first of its kind in the UK and will bring together the oil and gas industry and academics in a world-class research facility.

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Lady Stowell met leading figures from Newcastle University, Shepherd Offshore, Fraser Hydraulics, Bridon International, OGN Group, Technip and GE Oil and Gas, all of which are investing significantly in the North Bank of the Tyne Enterprise Zone site. The visit marks an important milestone for the Neptune Centre which is now poised to begin construction, to be completed in autumn 2015.

The second stop on the itinerary was the Ultra Low Carbon Vehicles EZ site at Washington, where she toured the newly completed Future Technology Centre.

During her visit, she tried out a simulator training vehicle at Tadea’s Effective Transport Solutions, and visited tenants including Smith Technologies and Hyperdrive Innovation. The Future Technology Centre, adjacent to Nissan, is overseen by a partnership of Zero Carbon Futures and Gateshead College. It includes the North’s only test track and workshops specifically for the development of low carbon vehicle technologies.

The Baroness also visited Mecaplast in Peterlee, which has recently expanded its car parts factory and doubled its workforce 180 to handle new contracts from Nissan.

Paul Woolston, chairman of the Lep, said: “Each of the sites on the Baroness’s tour was selected to showcase key industries in the North East.

“It’s vitally important that politicians in London are aware of the difference these types of developments are making to the region’s economy.

“Mecaplast is among a number of initiatives to grow jobs that the LEP has financially supported. Investment of £1.9m from the LEP and the Regional Growth Fund allowed the company to buy new equipment and create more space for new employment.

“We should be proud of initiatives like this and the region’s position at the forefront of the low carbon vehicle and oil, gas and offshore sectors. These are all industries which will support the region’s economic growth in the long term, and the three sites we toured provided impressive, memorable experiences for everyone involved in the visit.”