A STEELMAKER, which employs more than 1,500 North-East workers, has denied it is looking to sell a research centre in the region.

Tata Steel, with sites in Hartlepool, Redcar, Darlington, Middlesbrough and Skinningrove, in east Cleveland, was responding to national reports that it has told the Government it will axe its Teesside research and development arm.

The centre, which is believed to employ about 200 people, has worked on projects including high strength bridge wire and the hardness of resistance spot welded advanced high strength steels.

Responding to the reports, a Tata spokesman said: “We do not comment on speculation and rumour.”

It is not the first time the company, which is the world's 12th largest steelmaker, has been the subject of reports saying its UK future is in doubt.

Earlier this year, it dismissed claims from an industry analyst that it was considering making cuts to its Corus arm to ease debts of about £7bn, and instead revealed it was taking on 22 apprentices.

The programme will see eight workers based on Teesside, with eight at Skinningrove, and six apprentices at Hartlepool, who will start in September.

It has invested about £13m in its North-East sites and employs about 81,600 people in 26 countries.

Last year, it won orders worth more than £100m-worth to produce oil and gas pipes for projects in the Gulf of Mexico, but revealed it was cutting 900 jobs in the UK, including about 600 posts at plants in South Wales.