THE creation of a new industrial estate promising more than 3,000 jobs has moved a step closer with councillors approving plans for the site’s crucial infrastructure.

More than 120 acres of grazing fields near junction 59 of the A1(M), near Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, have been earmarked for a new industrial area, with 163,000sq metres of business floorspace, plus potentially a strategic rail freight interchange.

Backers hope the project, known as Merchant Park 2 until Merchant’s involvement ceased shortly before Christmas, will capitalise on the arrival of the new £82 million Hitachi train building plant nearby and attract 3,200 extra jobs to the area by 2025.

That could mean a manufacturer supplying Hitachi or a distribution firm making use of the site’s proximity to the A1(M).

That is much further down the line and no employers have yet been announced for the facility.

However, today (Tuesday, March 1), Durham County Council granted planning permission for the infrastructure to make it possible.

Plans to build a new signal-controlled junction on the A167 immediately north of Newton Park services and an electricity station and landscape the sloped area to create two “plateaus” for development won the unanimous support of the council’s county planning committee meeting at County Hall this lunchtime (Tuesday).

The project will be paid for from the Government’s Local Growth Fund and delivered by the council.

Aycliffe North and Middridge Councillor John Clare said it was a very exciting prospect.

“One of the joys of the last few years is that the existing industrial estate has filled up and now we’re finding units quite difficult to get.

“There’s a proposal for an expansion of that site, with the jobs. I absolutely support it.”

His fellow ward councillor Mike Dixon said he was also very excited at the project.

Cllr Henry Nicholson added: “With the approach of Hitachi and other add-ons, it’s a wonderful opportunity for south-west Durham.”

The site lies north-west of the A1(M), west of Newton Park services and east of the Darlington-Newton Aycliffe railway line, while also being close to the East Coast Main Line.

It is estimated when completed the industrial estate could generate £495 million a year.

There were no formal objections to the proposals.