A NORTH-EAST port which handles millions of tonnes of Teesside steel is crucial to stimulating the national economy and creating hundreds of jobs, according to a senior Government minister.

Patrick McLoughlin, Secretary of State for Transport, yesterday visited PD Ports new £16.7m container terminal, in Teesport, and said it was a key factor in maintaining the North-East shipping industry as one of the strongest in the UK.

The port imports goods for supermarkets Tesco and Asda and has shipped two million tonnes of steel slab from Redcar- based SSI UK to Thailand and Turkey since operations restarted last year.

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Mr McLoughlin, a former miner, also visited the multimillion pound Clipper warehouse, in Wynyard Park, near Billingham, which handles Asda’s clothing range and imports most of its products through PD Ports’ Teesport base.

The 342,000sq ft purposebuilt centre, which could employ up to 650 people, can process up to 240 lorry loads of clothes every 24 hours and supply Asda’s main distribution centres in Washington, Wearside, Lymedale, in Staffordshire, and Brackmills, in Northampton.

Mr McLoughlin said: “I was very impressed with these cargo centres, which are crucial to the UK economy.

“I came to Teesport a few years ago and there have been some big changes and improvements since then which are great to see.

“It is also good to see PD Ports and Clipper are working closely together to bring jobs to the North-East, as well as bringing innovation to the sector by streamlining the distribution process.

“They have created new jobs and increased traceability within the supermarkets because we can now see where their goods are coming from and how they are loading and transported to their destination.”

David Robinson, PD Ports chief executive, said the port was one of the most advanced facilities in the country, and said it was committed to strengthening that position.

He said: “We have invested significantly in our container terminal and have further improvements in the pipeline so we can service the growing volume of container goods coming through the port.

“Teesport is well placed to make a material difference to supply chain markets and we are looking to build on our existing platform in the North-East, particularly the Tees Valley, as a leading centre for logistics.”