BEN HOUCHEN: Our comeback from the pandemic is gathering momentum

Ben Houchen outside Teesside International Airport.Ben Houchen outside Teesside International Airport.
Ben Houchen outside Teesside International Airport.
The past few months have undoubtedly been challenging because of the coronavirus pandemic, but we are proving as a region and as a country we can get through these difficult times and see the light at the end of the tunnel.

From tomorrow, all but a small number of leisure, tourism and hospitality businesses will be reopening across Hartlepool, Teesside and Darlington as further lockdown restrictions are carefully lifted. The fact that these businesses can finally reopen shows we are winning the fight against this virus.

Pubs, restaurants, museums, venues and hotels have been seriously impacted by the coronavirus outbreak, with most of those businesses unable to open or working under severe restrictions over the past few months. These businesses are worth almost £1billion to the local economy, however 98% of them said they required funding support to survive, compared with 83% across all sectors.

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That is why last week I outlined a £1million package of support for front-line hospitality and tourism businesses across the region which included the Welcome Back Fund to help them reopen in time for the summer.

The £1,500 grants will help businesses to make changes to the way they work to accommodate customers after the lockdown, including funding safety measures such as screens and adding floor markings and sanitisation points at their premises.

Our town centres, high streets, restaurants and pubs are key to my plan for our recovery. Supporting local jobs and local businesses will enable us to comeback stronger and I am committed to continue doing whatever I can make sure that this happens.

Our comeback is gathering momentum and nowhere is this more evident than at our airport. Our daily flights to Aberdeen and Belfast are back up and running, and our new London City and Newquay routes will also be launching next week.

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From August 3rd, our KLM service to Amsterdam Schiphol will also resume, beginning as a single daily service, growing back to three times a day when the situation allows. It was fantastic, at the same time, to announce a new 5-year deal between KLM and our airport, securing Teesside’s Amsterdam route for the long-term, meaning you can still fly to more than 100 destinations worldwide from Teesside.

Worldwide travel to and from Teesside International is not only great news holidaymakers but it is key to attracting high level investment, which is central to my plan for jobs - to create good quality, local jobs for people in Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool.

It is fantastic to see Teesside Airport back open again, but as we wait for the right time to safely reintroduce the rest of our flight programme, we’ve been thinking outside the box of new ways to support our airport.

This summer, some of the biggest artists in the UK including Dizzee Rascal, Sigala, Tony Hadley, The Streets and Gary Numan will be performing at Teesside Airport in a series of special drive in concerts.

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They will be performing on a specially constructed stage with the backdrop of the airport’s main runway. There will also be performances from Six the Musical, comedians, blockbuster films, and stars of children’s TV, so there really is something for everyone!

Tickets are selling fast with the Teesside Airport drive-in the only venue of its type across the whole North East, so I urge you to buy yours at before it is too late!