HITACHI’S £82m vote of confidence in the North-East is helping to attract other major investments to the region, said developers, who are closing in on a landmark deal set to create 4,500 jobs.

In the next few weeks, Merchant Place Developments (MPD), the Newcastle firm that persuaded Hitachi to build a train factory in Newton Aycliffe, expect to pen contracts to hand County Durham another huge jobs boost.

MPD were last night tight-lipped about details of the deal, but told The Northern Echo they were “very close to completing a very exciting investment” for the region.

It will see development of land near Aycliffe Business Park. The project is not directly linked to the Hitachi train factory which will employ 730 workers when it opens in 2016.

The so-called ‘Hitachi effect’ has seen a dramatic rise in interest from potential investors looking to become part of the revival in Aycliffe and the surrounding area.

Hitachi yesterday unveiled the first phase of its factory which will make trains to replace the aged rolling stock that operates on the Great Western and East Coast lines.

In front of an audience of business leaders and politicians the Japanese manufacturer further strengthened its commitment to the North-East by confirming Aycliffe will be home to its UK and European design office. An initial team of 12 – that will grow as more work comes on board – will design the interiors of train carriages, with 70 Scotrail electric units the first project in the pipeline.

“We made an excellent decision to come to the North-East,” said Keith Jordan, Managing Director of Hitachi Rail Europe, who praised main contractor Shepherd, for finishing the factory exterior on schedule. “Having a design office here means that we can compete for work with any train factory in Europe. It also means that we will have jobs that people on the shop floor can aspire to. When people join the Hitachi family we want them to fee that they casn build a career with us not do just a job,” Mr Jordan added.

The design office announcement was warmly welcomed by MP Phil Wilson, who said it and the potential new deal by MPD, showed Aycliffe was undergoing a “dramatic recovery that is bringing jobs and investment to the constituency.”

Rail Minister Claire Perry MP said: “The new factory at Newton Aycliffe will benefit the North East’s economy for years to come, creating hundreds of jobs and apprenticeships and showcasing the fusion of British and Japanese engineering excellence.

"It is great to see railway industry jobs returning to the North-East, home of the Stockton-Darlington line where Britain’s railway journey began.”

Hitachi will occupy about one third of the 104 acre Merchant Park site which is also expected to house a new University Technical College (UTC) that will train 600 engineers a year when it opens in 2016. In addition, developers have been in talks with engineering and logistics firms who have shown interest in opening factories and warehouses in and around the site.

MPD director Geoff Hunton believed that Hitachi’s investment was acting as a catalyst to investors who will help revive fortunes in the area.

Mr Hunton added: “Merchant Park is benefitting from the upturn in the economy and what is becoming known as ‘the Hitachi effect’. "We have already received a number of new significant manufacturing requirements and are pleased that we have been able to secure Aycliffe’s place on a number of shortlists. We need to make this happen and secure more jobs for the region.

“We intend to continue to invest in Newton Aycliffe as we are confident that this is a new era for County Durham. To this end we are expecting to make some exciting announcements in the next few weeks regarding further development in the area, which we envisage will create a further 4,500 job opportunities in addition to those within Merchant Park.”