THE Conservatives are “very serious” about wresting a key North-East seat from Labour, a senior Cabinet minister has said.

Greg Clark yesterday confirmed the party will target Darlington as it attempts to seize traditional Labour heartland in the General Election.

The Teesside-born Business Secretary revealed the party’s intentions during a visit to the town, which means a trio of Tory big-hitters have come to Darlington in little more than a week.

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Prime Minister Theresa May previously met workers at a haulage firm and Chancellor Philip Hammond toured a marine operator’s factory, both on the town’s Faverdale industrial estate, with Mr Clark looking around the Centre for Process Innovation’s £38m National Biologics Manufacturing Centre.

Speaking to The Northern Echo, Mr Clark, who was born in Middlesbrough and went to school in nearby South Bank, said the area was very much on his party’s radar.

Asked about the key Darlington seat, which the Conservatives last held with Michael Fallon in the early 1990s and has latterly been with Labour’s Jenny Chapman, Mr Clark said: “We are very serious about Darlington and very serious about the Tees Valley.

“We hope that we will be able to persuade the British people to elect a Conservative Government and have a Conservative MP for Darlington to have a direct voice in that Government.

“I think that would be great for the town, but we don’t take anything for granted.”

Mr Clark visited the CPI’s base, which was officially opened in September 2015 with the ambition of putting the North-East at the vanguard of global health treatments by providing firms with technical backing to research and develop potentially life-saving cures and vaccines.

He said: “My family are still on Teesside and it’s always a place that’s very dear to me.

“I think places like Darlington and the Tees Valley have put themselves on the national map by the growth that is taking place and the resurgence of optimism around here.

“The CPI is the perfect example of it; you’ve got companies based in Portsmouth and Cambridge coming to use the facilities and workforce in Darlington.

“There is huge interest in bolstering and continuing that momentum here.

“We are in the middle of an election campaign that we are going to fight very hard.”

Mr Clark also revealed he aims to revive plans for a Teesside carbon capture and storage network, to help meet emissions targets, should his party win the election, and defended the Conservatives from Labour criticism over potential changes to pensioners’ winter fuel payments.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell has said the Tories’ manifesto plan to means-test the allowance was “sneaky”, adding it would affect the poorest people.

However, Mr Clark, said the proposals were reflective of a party that is willing to take “serious decisions”.

He added: “Everyone knows that as people are living longer the challenges of making sure people have decent care is a big one.

“The easiest thing would be to just duck that and say we will come back to it.

“But this is a policy that will make a serious difference to care for the elderly and make sure people in the mainstream, who have modest means, can be confident they can have the care they need.

“I think you need to have someone, like Theresa May, who is going to take serious decisions.”