County Durham and Darlington is in the North East of England and covers an area of almost 2,460 square kilometres. Durham City and the larger industrial and commercial towns are in the East of the area; in contrast, the West is predominantly rural consisting of open moor land and wooded river valleys and is sparsely populated. Darlington, our largest town, lies in the South and is undergoing significant regeneration.
With good transport networks, the area is accessible by rail via the East-Coast mainline, by road via the A1(M) and A19 and by air via Newcastle and Durham Tees Valley International Airports.
Over the last twenty-five years the traditional industries, such as coal mining and steel manufacturing, have disappeared and have been replaced by high-tech factories and modern business parks in towns such as Peterlee and Sedgefield providing local employment opportunities. Durham has a world class University; the number, range and quality of graduates are a major contribution to the area.
Tourism continues to grow and plays an important part in the local economy; key attractions such as the World Heritage site of Durham Cathedral, Beamish Museum and the National Railway Museum at Shildon attract thousands of visitors each year.
Upper Teesdale in the North Pennines, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, is home to England’s highest waterfall, High Force. Darlington also boasts many cultural attractions such as; the Arts Centre, the Brick Train and the Civic Theatre.
Today, approximately 600,000 people live in County Durham and Darlington and just under half of these (284,000) are economically active. These population figures, whilst remaining fairly static in recent years, have decreased since the 1970s in line with the national trend.
The population comprises approximately 51% females and 2.2% ethnic minorities; 21.8% are under 18 and 16.6% are over 65 (Source: Government Census 2001).
Many parts of the area have housing stock that is sub-standard, falling below accepted decency levels and this, combined with lifestyles associated with the industrial past, has resulted in the area also having the worst health and lowest life expectancies. In addition economic activity in the area is low – almost 10% lower than the national average and, despite real improvements in recent years, educational attainment is also below the national average. Clearly these factors contribute substantially to the alarming levels of social deprivation observed in our area. Significant statistics are as follows:
County Durham and Darlington has 16.4% of its Super Output Areas’ (SOAs) in the top 10% most deprived; 33.2% in the top 20% most deprived; and 49.3% in the top 30% most deprived (Source: Index of Multiple Deprivation 2004).
The District of Easington has the most significant levels of deprivation in the North East within the top 10%, 20% and 30% categories (50.8%, 71.4%; and 82.5% respectively) and has the sixth worst levels in the country.