I would like to wish everyone a Happy New Year and, after the challenges of 2020, I hope you were able to relax and enjoy the Christmas break. I know this was not possible for everyone and so I would also like to thank our amazing NHS staff, carers and other keyworkers who worked tirelessly to keep us safe and well over the festive period.

As we embark on 2021, there are many challenges ahead, but the fact the Covid-19 vaccination programme is now underway in our region should be a source of hope for us all.

At Durham County Council, we remain committed to supporting our communities and businesses, while forging ahead with our partners to deliver projects to help ensure the county’s future prosperity.

Creating and safeguarding jobs is at the heart of our vision and was a key factor in shaping the County Durham Plan. Over the next decade, we project £3.4 billion will be invested in the county, resulting in the creation of 32,000 jobs and 25,000 new homes by 2035. This is in addition to our commitment to strengthening our £955 million visitor economy.

And there is much to look forward to in 2021. The development of strategic employment sites, including Jade Business Park near Seaham, Forrest Park in Newton Aycliffe, Integra 61 at Bowburn and NETPark in Sedgefield, will continue. Last month, plans to transform our Aykley Heads site into a major business park were approved, and subject to Secretary of State approval, work on the first office building can begin this spring. This development has the potential to boost our economy by £400 million and bring thousands of new and better jobs to the county.

Other priorities for 2021 include progressing our £75 million capital programme to build 500 affordable homes over five years and continuing to improve the county’s transport infrastructure. This includes the critical repairs to New Elvet Bridge in Durham City, which remain on track and are due to be completed by the autumn.  

Delivering our Climate Change Emergency Response Plan is another key focus and among the many environmental projects we will be undertaking this year is the installation of 160 electric vehicle charging points across the county.

We also remain passionate about the power of culture and sport to regenerate communities and are looking forward to reinstating our world class festival and events programme. What better symbol of brighter times ahead could there be than the return of Lumiere, the UK’s largest and most successful light festival, to Durham in November.

These are just some of the projects we will be working on this year, but whatever 2021 brings, Durham County Council will strive to do the best it can for everyone who lives, works and visits County Durham.

By Simon Henig, leader of Durham County Council