A £22.3M life science centre of excellence “will continue the North’s great history of innovation”, an MP charged with driving growth across the region today (Wednesday, February 14) claimed.

Teesside University’s Darlington-based National Horizons Centre aims to bolster skills and research across the bioscience industry.

Speaking at a groundbreaking event, Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry told The Northern Echo the site will be a “regionally and nationally significant educational asset.”

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The Echo understands the centre will act as a bridge between university learning and organisations such as the Centre for Process Innovation, which is known for nurturing next generation healthcare treatments at its £38m National Biologics Centre in Darlington.

Forming part of a £300m university masterplan to strengthen its estate over the next decade, the new building, expected to open next spring, will house teams of academics and business development staff, who will work alongside domestic and international industry partners on education, training, innovation and research.

Speaking after taking the controls of an excavator during a turf-cutting ceremony on Darlington’s Central Park, Mr Berry told the Echo the building will be a real plus point for the Tees Valley.

He said: “This is not just going to be a regionally significant centre for excellence, it is something that is going to be nationally significant.

“This building will be pushing out the next generation of people that businesses in the Tees Valley need.”

The centre has been financially supported by the Local Growth Fund, via the Tees Valley Combined Authority, and the European Regional Development Fund.

Bosses say the Local Growth Fund’s £17.5m contribution represents the single largest investment by the pot in the Tees Valley, and Mr Berry said it would help quell doubters’ criticism of the Northern Powerhouse programme.

The minister also told the Echo the Government was aware of firms’ calls for clarity over Britain’s EU divorce, saying Downing Street is pushing to secure a good Brexit outcome for businesses.

He added: “People who are sceptical of the Northern Powerhouse don’t understand the scale of ambition.

“It is a very long-term project about narrowing the North/South divide.

“In terms of Brexit, we are working on getting the best deal for Britain.

“When we make the decision, the economy of the Tees Valley and the Northern Powerhouse must absolutely be at the heart of our thinking.”

Hailing the start of work on the National Horizons Centre, Councillor Bill Dixon, leader of Darlington Borough Council, said its arrival is another fillip for the town’s education and commercial sectors.

Citing previous successes with CPI and a neighbouring Business Central building, which provides space for smaller firms looking to increase their presence across the region, Cllr Dixon said: “The sky is the limit – where are the likes of GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca going to get their next workers from?

“Having this centre means we will have an education corridor, which starts at Darlington College, comes to the university and goes right up to CPI.

“Science, technology, engineering and maths skills are top of the agenda and this first-class facility will give our young people fantastic training opportunities.”

The centre’s potential was also celebrated by Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen, who highlighted how the area’s prowess and workforce across industries such as the process and healthcare sectors will need to be replenished.

He said: "The skills gap is not unique to the Tees Valley and we know the sectors that are going to grow.

"This centre is a perfect example of something that would not have happened without devolution."

Professor Paul Croney, the university’s vice-chancellor and chief executive, called it a “vote of confidence”.

“Darlington is the gateway to the Tees Valley and we want to create an innovation belt around it”, added Prof Croney.