ENVIRONMENT Secretary David Miliband yesterday praised the North-East for helping the UK lead the way in tackling climate change.

The MP said that the emerging green energy industry on Teesside was something to be celebrated and that it would play a central part in helping the country's lead the way on environmental issues.

Mr Miliband, on a visit to the North-East yesterday, attended a ceremony to mark the start of work on a £250m bioethanol plant at Wilton, on Teesside, in a project that will create 800 construction jobs and a further 100 jobs when production begins in 2009.

Green fuel producer Ensus, which is behind the project, estimates its headquarters will produce 400 million litres of environmentally-friendly bioethanol a year, which will account for about a third of the UK's demand by 2010.

Its requirement for 1.2 million tonnes of wheat a year to convert into ethanol is expected to underpin thousands of farming jobs.

The minister, who is MP for South Shields, South Tyneside, also visited Teesport, in Middlesbrough, to learn about proposals to build a £300m deep sea container terminal at the site.

As well as creating 5,500 jobs in the region, port owner PD Ports estimates it would save about 70 million road miles a year.

Speaking at Wilton, Mr Miliband said the alternative energy industry was vital to the region.

He said: "For Teesside, which was 20 years ago a site of industrial decline, to now be known for its industrial renaissance is fantastic, and a very exciting part of the equation.

"Currently, every country in the world has to find a way to lower its carbon emissions and, undoubtedly, those who do it first will be the ones which reap the dividends.

"The involvement of this region in this is something to be celebrated, and is very, very important, not just locally, but also for national and international efforts."

Alwyn Hughes, the former ICI executive who now leads Ensus, said the company selected Teesside ahead of several other possible sites for the "groundbreaking" plant.

He said: "I know of nowhere better in the world to invest in this kind of plant than Teesside, and no better place for the quality of people for this industry.

"We looked at many options on the journey of Ensus, but found nowhere better than Teesside, or this region."

Mr Hughes pledged that although the company was planning to create other sites around the world, its headquarters would remain on Teesside.