A FORMER steelworks represents a “massive opportunity” to deliver thousands of jobs and revive the North- East economy, an MP has claimed.

Rishi Sunak says SSI UK’s old Redcar base can be pivotal in the creation and operation of new free ports.

The proposals were last night backed by the North East England Chamber of Commerce, which said the plans represented a “tremendous” chance to overcome Brexit difficulties.

SSI UK’s sprawling Redcar site has been idle since the company collapsed into liquidation more than a year ago, when thousands of workers lost their jobs.

However, writing in a report for the Centre for Policy Studies think tank, Mr Sunak, MP for Richmond, in North Yorkshire, said the works could be put to good use in a broader scheme that could create 86,000 jobs for the British economy and encourage firms to fashion further posts outside London.

He said: “There are 1,400 acres of industrial land next door to one of the most modern ports in the country.

“While the site has still to be cleaned up, it represents a great manufacturing opportunity for the area.”

Free ports, which Mr Sunak said are already popular in the US, are areas that, although inside the geographic boundary of a country, are considered outside the country for customs purposes.

This means goods can enter and leave without incurring usual import procedures or tariffs, which Mr Sunak says would provide fresh incentive for UK manufacturers in the post-Brexit era.

Mr Sunak added: “Upon leaving the EU, Britain will find itself with more opportunities for economic innovation than at any time in almost 50 years.

“There is a clear political desire to rebalance the British economy away from London towards the regions, and away from the services sector towards manufacturing.

“A free ports programme would benefit the North.”

Mr Sunak said the plans could also be adopted at the Port of Tyne, which supplements industrial operations with cruise liner visits.

James Ramsbotham, North East England Chamber of Commerce chief executive, welcomed Mr Sunak’s vision, saying the EU referendum has necessitated the need to think even more about business’ futures.

He added: “We have to be determined to find new opportunities and ways of working.

“The potential for free trade zones, especially at ports like Teesport, is tremendous.”

SSI had more than 2,000 staff at its peak but they were made redundant, alongside about 850 in the supply chain, when depressed steel prices and Chinese imports compounded the Thai business’ investment to relight the old Corus blast furnace.

The SSI Task Force, formed to help workers rebuild their lives, revealed in September the majority of the 2,150 people who claimed benefit are now off welfare payments and into work or training.

Uncertainty still surrounds the clean-up of the SSI works after Lord Michael Heseltine, chosen as the man to lead its proposed re-development, stopped short of confirming Government support.

Earlier this year, Lord Heseltine hinted “an uncomfortable question” over the scale of the overhaul could hold back any improvements.