Business Leader recently spoke to Andy Preston – Mayor of Middlesborough – to talk about his first year in the role.
You’ve been in the role since May last year – have you enjoyed the role so far?
It’s definitely exhausting! Being boldly ambitious and so visibly accountable means I’m under healthy pressure from the public 24/7. I love working with the council’s teams and we’ve devised awesome and creative ways to do things much better. I am genuinely privileged to be in this role.
What were your main aims?
Lots of stated aims and targets. I’m determined to bring widespread prosperity and this means we have to do lots of different things – in particular we have to reduce crime and antisocial behaviour which is a massive barrier to investment and progress. We are reducing crime and antisocial behaviour is falling fast – this is great news but we’ve got a long way to go yet!
And have you achieved some of them?
Beyond fighting crime and ASB a stated goal of mine was to plant 10,000 trees in our borough over four years. We’re heading towards having planted 15,000 in just one year – so we’re smashing that target and I’m delighted with that.
What have been your biggest successes to date?
We’re on the verge of several deals that will bring apartment living to central Middlesbrough – people said we couldn’t do it – but we can! My goal is to have 4,000 new and economically active people living in the centre of town – this will boost our shops and restaurants and it will also help to further reduce crime.
What are the biggest challenges facing the region?
Drugs and addiction is out biggest challenge. The proliferation of drugs and alcohol infects all aspects of our world – in particular, it causes and perpetuates financial poverty and community spirit.
Can you tell me about the charity work you’ve done in the region?
I’ve been active with local charities since 2002 but I stepped things up in 2010 when I created the Middlesbrough & Teesside Philanthropic Foundation. It’s a great charity which fundraises, mainly from affluent people and businesses – so far it’s raised c.£4m and used that money to stock food banks, support community work and create apprenticeships.
We recently received news that you launched a £250m project to establish Middlesbrough as a tech hub for the UK – can you tell me about your plans?
We’re going to take on the world! That’s a bit tongue in cheek but we are incredibly ambitious and brave. Our strong digital sector can thrive and create 1000s of jobs. Our goal of becoming the UK’s digital city makes it clear to everyone that we are aiming high. Phase 1 of the £250m project includes 20 storey digital campus building that will provide our digital cluster with facilities and a focus that’s unrivalled in the UK.
What other plans do you have for the region while in office?
Making Middlesbrough one of the UK’s greenest cities is really important to me. We are sometimes seen as an industrial wasteland but we’ve already got a plan for 15,000 trees well underway and I expect to have 40,000 planted within three years. This is great news because the capacity of trees to absorb CO2 is mind-blowing – just one mature tree removes about 20kg of C02 from the air every single year!