ON May 5, 2017, there was a political earthquake in the Tees Valley. A Conservative was elected as the first mayor to head-up the five Labour-dominated local councils.

At that moment in the rarefied political calendar, it was expected that the earthquake would be followed by a Tory tsunami running down the valley, unseating many of the Labour MPS at the General Election a month later.

The tsunami didn’t happen. No MP was washed away a part, ironically, from Stockton South’s MP James Wharton.

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But the earthquake has changed the nature of the Tees Valley.

Even though only 21 per cent of the electorate took part in the referendum, Ben Houchen has become the area’s figurehead with a direct connection into the heart of the Conservative government. He has big ambitions for big change – to buy the airport, to reform the police, to bridge the Tees, to create a unique development corporation, to build the most significant new road for decades – in a way that his neighbour in Durham, council leader Simon Henig, does not.

He may even get the parmo – a deep fried, cheesy-chickeny-garlicy drunken delicacy – internationally recognised as the Tees Valley’s unique contribution to global cuisine.

The councils in the Tees Valley have been cowed by years of austerity, but it does feel as if the mayoral system, backed with £15m-a-year, is beginning to change that.

A good, if small, example is railway heritage.

After years of frustrating inactivity by the individual borough councils, the combined authority has realised the potential for tourism and the local economy of the 200th anniversary of the Stockton & Darlington Railway in 2025. It has already appointed a company to plan a festival; it is driving a bid to become the country’s Capital of Culture; it was instrumental in winning Heritage Action Zone status for the trackbed from Historic England which will unlock more money – in fact, the Tees Valley bid for this status was judged the third best in the country.

A bigger, perhaps better, example of the change in the Tees Valley is the proposed retirement of Darlington council’s chief executive, Ada Burns.

Rather than replace her with a similar figurehead, a managing director is to be appointed. This acknowledges that in a decade, the council’s annual budget will have fallen from £100m to less than £60m so there is less for a chief executive to spend, but it also accepts that the mayor is the new kid on the block with the vision for the town.

Mr Houchen won his election with a Corbyn-like manifesto – big, populist ideas which even involved a nationalisation of a transport asset.

But his term of office runs out in 2020, and people will need to see he is making genuine progress on his eye-catching commitments, like taking Durham Tees Valley Airport into state control.

Mr Houchen’s other issue is the politicisation of his office. When he claimed Philip Hammond’s Budget would be “a litmus test” measuring the Conservative Government’s commitment to the region, he waved a red rag to the Labour bull. Days later, Mr Hammond announced £123m for the renewal of the Redcar steelworks site was, and Labour MPs tore into it as old money reannounced.

A messy bout of yaboo-sucks ensued, and the £123m got overlooked.

If a mayor is it successfully oversee five rival authorities, he needs to bring everyone together irrespective of their geography or politics.

Mr Houchen’s successful six months has overshadowed his neighbours. North Yorkshire is still a hotch-potch of two-tiered councils with no vision of how it is to organise itself in the new era of combined authorities.

In Durham, Cllr Henig looks unassailable despite not coming from the Momentum wing of Labour which has taken hold of many local parties.

But Durham itself is in danger of getting squeezed between the SuperTees authority in the south and a forthcoming SuperTyne in the north – the combined authority of Newcastle, North Tyneside and Northumberland will appoint an interim mayor this summer and hold elections in 2019.

In having a mayoral head, the Tees Valley is ahead of the game, but 2018 needs to be a year in which big plans begin to leave the drawing board.