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One region under a groove: how to revitalise the North East

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Ian Martin blueskies how to revitalise the North East

Monday. Lord Mandelson rings with a rush job. Could I redesign Sunderland as a low-carbon economic area by the end of the week?

He’s about to announce the latest rebirth of the North East. It will focus as usual on Sunderland’s victory over Leeds in the FA Cup final of 1973, only this time he has to promise government ‘action’. If there’s one lesson he’s learned about post-industrial decline it’s that you can’t solve a problem, especially poverty, by throwing money at it. That’s why the latest package of grant aid will go directly to a Japanese car manufacturer.

Tuesday. The brief for my low-carbonation zone looks challenging. I methodically work through my scribbled notes, then decide I need to brainstorm in the pub.

After a marathon thinking session, I go home and process all the brainstormed ideas in a period of intense horizontal brainwork. After my one-on-self brainworkshop I return to my notes and rethink the entire process.

Wednesday. By lunchtime I’ve done all the peripherals for New Sunderland: a local carbon-trading system with a weekly carbon farmers’ market, a vague but jolly initiative for schools called Carbonif4us! and a new estate of executive rural homes actually called Low Carbon.

In the afternoon I tackle the big stuff. The best way to define a low-carbon economic area is to enclose it in a vast, transparent carbon filter. I’m proposing a chilled bio-megadome. Obviously you’d have to leave holes for economic generators to come in and out but perhaps they could be fitted with flaps to retain industrial warmth and goodwill.

Peter’s calling for a ‘green revolution’, but apart from wanting Labour to pull off a miraculous win at the next general election his thoughts are a bit sketchy. I suggest reinstating the party’s Clause Four but changing it so the aspiration is to secure ‘common responsibility for Earth’s Precious Resources’, and changing ‘workers’ to ‘customers’. Revolution this time round will come not from the barrel of a gun but from the gentle flailing of wind-turbine blades.

Thursday. Now I’m on to what Peter calls the ‘fun stuff’. First I have to devise a ‘technology park’. Something inspirational, accessible, sustainable and ‘cutting edge’. I’m thinking, respectively:

• a lifesize replica of an actual children’s park by Antony Gormley at the centre in cast bronze, but with adult figures on the ‘swings and roundabouts’ of a global economy;

• feeder roads with lots of parking and planter tubs, plus a password-accessible website with updates, blogs and I don’t know a technology quiz or something;

• one or two trees to symbolise the Circle of Life, a solar-powered internet bar and smoking patrol officers in high-vis tabards; and

• razor wire round the perimeter.

After tea I sketch out some ideas for the ‘R&B Centre’. I’m very excited about this. In the old days you had industrial hubs, e.g. Detroit, mass-producing cars and R&B in a synchronised expression of modernity. Of course, both cars and R&B were ‘classic’ then. Optimistic chrome everywhere and a proper backbeat. Ah, the days before airbags were compulsory in cars or on Radio 1.

Yes, it’s sad that R&B now is such a cynical and formulaic industry, but there’s money in it. The proud people of Sunderland, who were once sustained by mining and shipbuilding, are resilient and adaptable enough to produce world-class contemporary electric car batteries AND world-class hip hop-influenced pop music.

I’m going for an eco-bling look. Every R&B centre needs plenty of platinum fittings in the reception area and an atrium with ironic frescoes – Mary J Blige washing the feet of Christ and so on – but how to nail the low-carbon credentials? In the end I decide on carbon offsetting. If the government decides to do absolutely nothing of consequence in, say, Middlesbrough, the ‘carbon R&B assprint’ of my scheme will sort of balance out in the long run. Sorted!

Friday. Peter disappointed and very cross. Apparently he wanted an ‘R&D! R and bloody D! Centre’. Fine. I’m taking back ALL my low-carbon ideas for reuse in Tamworth, where Japanese car makers and rhyming misogynists might feel more at home. I slam down the phone with Peter in mid-bleat.

Saturday. Sulk.

Sunday. Chill in crib dropping rhymes, dope beats and shit, then a light lunch.


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