Sense of doom replaced by hope

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The Independent Online

Industrial Correspondent

The arrival of the Germans has finally relieved the sense of doom that has pervaded Wallsend since the demise of the Swan Hunter shipyard last year. For many of the sacked Swan Hunter shipyard workers, there was real hope that the region could become one of regeneration after two decades of decline as traditional industries bit the dust.

John Morrison, chairman of the North Shields Chamber of Commerce, said Siemens' decision would help the area back to the days before Swan's closure. "Any job news is good news as far as we are concerned and this is the best we could have hoped for. Hopefully, we can start going forward from here," he said.

William Oliver, 44, a father of two, was one of those facing a bleak future when he left the yard for the final time after 19 years' service in the electrical stores.

He said: "The closure of Swan Hunter hit everyone badly. A lot of lads, especially the older ones, were left wondering if they would ever work again. This news will act as a perfect pick-me-up. Wallsend has taken a hammering in recent years and this news has been long overdue."

The mood among local businesses was also one of cheer. Robbed of custom since Swan's closure, they are looking for a jump in trade from up to 2,000 newly employed and their families.

According to Dave Peverley, 42, a sandwich shop proprietor: "It is marvellous for this community to be chosen like this. It has not been easy in Wallsend since the closure of Swans - the place was killed off, but trade will surely start picking up again because it has been fairly flat for the last two years."

Winning the microchip factory is the latest phase in the transformation of the North-east of England, which in 15 years has seen its industrial identity totally changed. The region, once a cornerstone of the industrial revolution, has lost nearly all its heavy industry, which as recently as the mid-1970s employed a third of the working population.

Besides the loss of tens of thousands of shipbuilding jobs, the region has watched the decimation of its coal industry, which in 1947 employed 148,000 men. Now only one deep mine, Ellington, remains, operated by a workforce of a few hundred.

The image of dirty overalls, smokestacks, pit-heaps and shipyard cranes has been replaced by one of diversity.

Foreign investment has been an important part of the transformation, with more than 380 companies investing in the North-east and Cumbria.

They have pumped more than pounds 4bn into their projects, creating more than 32,000 new jobs and safeguarding over 21,000 more.

Although not the first Japanese firm to move into the region, Nissan led the dramatic change with its 1984 decision to set up its first UK car plant in Sunderland, where unemployment was high.