DURHAM Tees Valley Airport operator Peel has been told it won’t receive a blank cheque after it put forward proposals to spend up to £500,000 of taxpayers’ cash on developing new routes and improving terminal facilities.

Tees Valley council leaders had previously agreed to provide the company with financial help after it pledged that the airport would remain open until at least 2021 while a five year masterplan aimed at securing its future was developed.

The Tees Valley Combined Authority (TVCA) subsequently allocated half-a-million pounds, but to date less than a tenth has been spent.

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At a meeting of the authority on Monday which discussed the 2018-19 budget, Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council leader Sue Jeffrey put forward an amendment that would see Peel’s spending plans be progressed with “utmost priority”.

The Northern Echo understands there were concerns among some on the authority about a lack of time to consider the proposals after they were only received by the office of Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen late on Friday evening.

Darlington Borough Council leader Bill Dixon, one of six cabinet members on the authority, including the mayor, admitted the issue had caused a “bit of a brouhaha”.

He said: “The clock is ticking. We are a year down the line on a five year plan and nothing has happened.

“Peel has now written saying they would like to develop routes, etc and they have interest, and they now need to draw the money.

“It’s not unreasonable to take that to the next level, but what is unreasonable in my view would be for us to say ‘Here’s a cheque’.

“We want to know what the money is for and what will it do.”

Cllr Dixon said he would welcome more scrutiny over an apparent verbal agreement reached between the Tees Valley’s five council leaders and Peel – before Mr Houchen took office – to provide financial support to the airport.

Concerns have been raised by Councillor Heather Scott, leader of the Conservative group on Darlington Council, who said she had “not a clue” what was in the agreement.

Councillor Jeffrey’s amendment, which was agreed by a majority of the cabinet, will be considered at a meeting on the 16th of this month when TVCA’s budget for the next financial year is due to be agreed.

Mr Houchen confirmed in a statement he had disagreed with the amendment.

He added: “Any project to spend this proposed sum would require my sign off as mayor.”

A spokesman for Peel said: “In the light of the fact that the combined authority has allocated £500,000 in development funding for the airport in its investment plan and budget for the coming year, we have prepared a package of proposals for consideration.

“The proposals cover a range of initiatives to encourage further development of the airport, including, for example, attracting new routes, marketing support and enhancing facilities in the terminal.

“Any support provided through an agreement with the combined authority would complement and enhance the airport’s planned investment programme.”