A DECADE ago we were talking about the death of shipbuilding in the North-East. The once thriving yards on the Wear and the Tees, for generations the mainstay of the local economies, had all but disappeared.

And when the Swan Hunter yard on the Tyne went into receivership, it looked as if the region's links with naval orders would also be a thing of the past.

There was a very real possibility that Britain, an island nation with a proud maritime history, would be left without a shipbuilding industry to call its own and that the British navy would be made up of ships constructed, repaired and maintained overseas.

Rumours of the death of shipbuilding, however, were exaggerated.

The multi-billion pound order for two new aircraft carriers, confirmed yesterday, marks the rebirth of shipbuilding in Britain, and in our region.

In the long term the order signals a vote of confidence by the British Government in an important indigenous industry.

While it is possible to be churlish by pointing to the fact that the Ministry of Defence has placed a substantial part of the work with a venture part-owned by the French government, we must resist being too critical.

To spread the risk across several yards and several businesses lowers that risk, and should ensure the carriers are built on time and at cost. That represents prudent housekeeping on the part of our Government.

It is a fact of life that at present there are not enough UK businesses with the proven ability to cope with such a huge task on their own.

If these two critical targets of time and cost are met, then there is every likelihood further orders will come to the British yards.

We should not begrudge the French their part of the order, but grasp the opportunity to demonstrate that we have the expertise to match the rest of the world.

The order is also to be welcomed in the short term, particularly in the North-East where heavy manufacturing industries have been battling to survive.

The feel-good factor from this announcement will surely have knock-on benefits for the whole of our regional economy.