THE Prime Minister has given his backing to creating new engineering centres of excellence, boosting hopes of a North-East development.

Mr Cameron said he fully supports university technical colleges (UTC) when answering Sedgefield Labour MP Phil Wilson at Prime Minister's Questions.

The University of Sunderland wants to open a UTC in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, in 2015, that will accept up to 600 student engineers every year.

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The UTC plans have the support of major Aycliffe employers Hitachi Rail Europe and Gestamp Tallent, which want a skilled workforce to fuel growth plans.

It also has the backing of the Department for Transport, with Transport Minister Stephen Hammond and Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin sending letters Mr Wilson, confirming their desire to see Schools Minister Lord Nash to approve the bid.

Lord Nash is expected to announce his decision in the coming days.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Wilson asked: “Will the Prime Minister assure me he will support the college and ensure the decision on the bid is taken quickly, so that employers and young people can acquire the skills that they need?”

Mr Cameron said: “I am a great supporter of university technical colleges.

“They are providing a really good new set of schools for our country that focus on vocational training and education.

“I look forward to working with the honourable Gentleman on that issue.”

Mr Wilson told The Northern Echo: “The UTC is imperative for well-established firms, such as Tallent, who have been in Aycliffe years, and new companies, like Hitachi, who aim to be there for generations.

“I want to see young people in the area get the skills they need to go into well paid jobs.

“University is very important, but so too are apprenticeships.”