CONSERVATIVE Ben Houchen has claimed he has caused a “political earthquake” after sweeping to power to become the first ever mayor of the Tees Valley.

The businessman and leader of his party on Stockton council, vowed to “turn the Tees Valley blue” after stunning his main rival, Labour’s Sue Jeffrey, to win the historic election by more than 2,000 votes.

The result was announced at Thornaby Pavillion shortly before 2.30pm.

Mr Houchen said he felt "fantastic" and said the win was a "political earthquake" in North-East politics.

Despite Labour having council leaders in all five of the boroughs in the Tees Valley, it was Mr Houchen – who pledged to buy Durham Tees Valley Airport (DTVA) if elected – who sent shockwaves through North-East politics.

Just hours after his victory, a spokesperson for DTVA confirmed “no discussions have taken place between the Airport and Mr Houchen regarding the Airport’s future”, but they said they were "looking forward" to working with the newly-appointed mayor.

Speaking to The Northern Echo at the count at Thornaby Pavilion, near Stockton, following his famous win, Mr Houchen said he felt “elated and excited.”

“It (winning) was something that I was quietly confident about– we always knew we were in with a chance, we’ve seen strong trends towards the Conservatives in recent years.

"I think today we’ve caused a political earthquake across the Tees Valley.

“We are going to see a massive difference – we are going to grow jobs, grow the economy and make a better life for the people of the Tees Valley.”

Mr Houchen achieved the most votes in Stockton and Darlington, whilst Ms Jeffrey won in Middlesbrough and Hartlepool.

She also achieved the most votes in Redcar, where she leads the council, but by a margin of under 1,500 votes – a borough she would have expected to win comfortably following the closure of the SSI steel works.

Asked why he felt voters backed him, Mr Houchen said: “People bought into the idea that something needs to be done about Teesside Airport, and people are not happy with the structure of Cleveland Police.

Mr Houchen also warned his rivals it was “very dangerous” to go against the “mandate of the people” when it comes to discussions about the airport.

“What happens now is I take the fight to the airport,” he said.

“I will be making contact with the owners, and I will be sitting down with the Tees Valley Combined Authority and reminding them that I have a mandate from the people to deliver on these policies.

“People have voted for a chance to save the airport,” he added.

The turnout for the election was 21.31 percent - higher than some anticipated but much lower than a General Election.

Ms Jeffrey admitted she was “disappointed” with the result, but insisted her campaign was not to blame.

“I think we ran an absolutely excellent campaign – we spoke to the people of the Tees Valley about the things that they cared about and it is just unfortunate that this is the way results have turned out.

“I am absolutely confident that in three years’ time we will be winning this election,” she added.

Ms Jeffrey insisted her party’s poor performance across the country had no bearing on the result.

“This wasn’t about London - this was about the Tees Valley and to ensure we get a good thriving economy and we will work together to deliver that, however we do that.

Liberal Democrat candidate Chris Foote Wood said he was “not surprised” by the outcome, but claimed “I did better than I thought I might do”.

“It was quite obvious from the start that the general election was going to overshadow today’s vote.

“When the first results came through that this would be a vote about Brexit and not about a mayor.”

John Tennant, UKIP candidate, said: “It is a big surprise because it has been a Labour area for such a long time, but this vote has nothing to do with the Tees Valley or the combined authority – it is purely about Brexit.

“We will certainly be challenging Mr Houchen on his plans for the airport because we don’t think it will work - I’d like to see him be a bit more realistic.”

Following the Conservative’s victory, Mr Houchen was confident about his party’s election chances in the region.

“For the first time in many years, we’ve got five target seats in the Tees Valley for the General Election.

“I won the first preference of vote across the Tees Valley which is traditionally a Labour area, and I also won the second preference vote.

“That is a clear mandate from the voters that they want change, because they are sick of being let down,” he added.

The Tory winner is the nephew of former professional footballer Keith Houchen, who scored in Coventry City's FA Cup final over Tottenham in 1987 and was also a player-manager of Hartlepool United.

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