A RALLYING call has been sounded to deliver the North-East's first engineering centre of excellence.

Lord Kenneth Baker yesterday met 60 business leaders to drive forward plans for a university technical college (UTC), in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham.

Proposals for the college, which would train up to 600 youngsters a year, have been submitted to the Department for Education.

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Lord Baker, a former Conservative Education Secretary, said businesses backing would be pivotal in making the vision a reality.

The peer previously opened regional technology centres (RTC), including Sunderland's North headquarters, which focus on helping firms develop products.

He said: “The North-East is a crucial economic area for the country and UTC's are an opportunity to ensure the skills needed for the future are locally available.

“The close involvement of employers is fundamental to any UTC.

“By meeting regional businesses, you can start to plan how UTCs can open in the North-East.”

Supported by the University of Sunderland, with backing from train builder Hitachi Rail Europe and car parts maker Gestamp Tallent, the plans have been hailed by Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin, Transport Minister Stephen Hammond and Sedgefield MP Phil Wilson.

Hitachi wants workers for its 730-job plant, which will open in 2016, with chassis manufacturer Gestamp planning to create more than 300 posts.

Education bosses hope to open the college in 2016.

Original proposals for an Aycliffe UTC were turned down in January when the Department for Education (DfE) favoured bids from London, Peterborough, Lincolnshire and Lancashire.

UTCs are modelled on 1940s technical schools, providing extended work placements and core GCSE subjects to improve skills.

In March last year, the Government approved 13 new UTCs, with nine of them in the South.

The coalition Government has backed 45 in total, though the Newton Aycliffe centre would be the first in this region.

Gordon Ollivere MBE, RTC North chief executive, added: “Finding young people with the drive and ambition to take up careers in science, engineering and technology remains a major problem for employers in this region.

“Any initiative helping to foster an interest in local industry and its exciting careers is welcome.”