FEARS over the future of a North-East electronics plant have been fuelled following the announcement that up to 31 jobs are to be cut - only months after a planned £45m upgrade of the factory was scrapped.

The Northern Echo can reveal that Filtronic, in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, told its 450 employees earlier this week that the 31 positions would be cut after a review of the business.

The company - which makes mobile phone transmitters and chips in handsets that receive the signal - blamed its decision on "the continuing uncertainty in the mobile handset market".

The blow comes in the wake of Filtronic announcing earlier this year that it had permanently shelved plans to invest £45m in the plant to treble its capacity, after a fall in demand for its products and a poor financial performance by the company.

As a result, the investment was reduced to a maximum of £10m, although the company pledged it would not be making cuts to its existing operation.

However, last night, only three months later, Filtronic confirmed it would be making up to 31 people redundant and said a consultation process was under way between the company and employees.

The company is based in the former Fujitsu factory, where it moved when Fujitsu pulled out of the region in 1999, with the loss of 570 jobs.

Community leaders at the time said Newton Aycliffe was left "devastated" by the blow.

Although Filtronic insists it is not leaving the region, yesterday, worried workers at the plant - the flagship in Filtronic's compound semiconductors division - said they feared for their futures.

One employee said: "It's bad news, of course, and after they have scaled back the investment, it makes you wonder what their future plans are.

"Living round here, you can't help but think about what happened with Fujitsu, although at the same time, I suppose it makes you feel quite thankful it's only 31 jobs that are going."

The proposed expansion of the factory was reduced from the planned £45m upgrade to a £15m refit last year, in the wake of Filtronic recording half-year losses of £6.7m.

That was cut by another £5m in February, and the company said it needed to assess its operation to gain a "more considered understanding of what is needed at the plant".

Last night, Filtronic said that a decision on the proposed expansion of the site had still not been finalised.