The slowdown in the property market elsewhere in the UK has not had a major impact on the North-east. Carrick added: "We are finding the growth in property values in the North-east are better than elsewhere. It is more stable here though there has been some slowing in demand. Any fears about property being dumped on the market is erroneous. It will be phased over time." There are other big projects down river at Royal Quays and on the site of the former Hylton Colliery which nestled on the banks of the River Wear at Sunderland. Like Newcastle Business Park, Hylton enjoys enterprise zone (EZ) status, an enormous carrot for industry.
The Sunderland EZ is probably the last to be designated and was established after the bitter and controversial closure of loss-making North East Shipbuilders two years ago. The state-owned yards, part of British Shipbuilders, were the most advanced in Europe. The loss of thousands of jobs and an industry which supplied the region with tradesmen is still regretted in the town which once provided a quarter of the world's merchant ships. But doubters who believed that new industry could not be generated are pointed towards the Nissan car factory at nearby Washington, a symbol of the new North-east and a manufacturer which the region has learned to call its own.
Washington new town tended in the past to divert new industry and business away from Sunderland, but the EZ site at Hylton together with other sites at Castletown and Doxford Park near to major trunk roads will help to reverse the trend and also stimulate the commercial sector in Sunderland. The most encouraging indication of the strength of the local property market and anticipated demand is a 500,000 sq ft mixed scheme about to begin at Hylton. Washington Developments, a company formed by a management buyout from the Commission for the New Towns, is promoting the scheme with backing from London and Edinburgh Trust. It is one of the biggest speculative developments currently taking place in the UK. Norman Batchelor, a director of Washington Developments, said that the speed of take-up will naturally depend on the strength of the local economy, which performed well against a general downturn elsewhere.
The revival of the regional economy has helped attract institutional funds and rentals have risen in Newcastle from about £6 per sq ft to £12.50 in three years, still well below central London prices, but offering advantages of stability and long-term growth potential. Balls says that any comparison between the London Docklands and the Tyne and Wear area ends with their shared problems of derelict river edges. Where property development in London has been "development for development's sake", in the North-east volumes were not important. Where London Docklands had a vast tract of vacant land, Tyne and Wear had a hotch-potch of derelict buildings, multiple ownerships and lively businesses.
"You see the survivors doing well and new business coming in to diversify the industrial base," said Balls. Investors do not look for low costs; they want to see success, he said. For that reason the MetroCentre shopping complex at Gateshead proved that money could be made on Tyneside. The big institutional investors are still scarcely evident, though Scottish Provident is supporting the Castletown scheme at Sunderland. Even so, finding funds is not a problem and Balls is optimistic that the TWDC can bequeath to the region a new climate of sustainable growth.