MOVING a significant step closer to taking control of the local airport is one of a number of announcements that the Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen will be making today to mark his first year in office.

Other announcements include a first trade mission to the Far East, creating a £15m business investment fund, and starting a schools careers advice service.

The airport, though, and his deal with Peel will grab the headlines.

“I’m pleased to be able to say negotiations have moved onto a formal and advanced stage and we have signed a formal non-disclosure agreement which allows us to get into the detail of what the proposal might look like on buying the airport, but we will also have to take a hiatus on what we are able to broadcast to people,” he told The Northern Echo.

“We are at a crucial stage of getting hold of our airport and I hope to have further details in a few weeks, if not months.”

Peel, which owns 89 per cent of the airport with local councils owning the remainder, said last night: “The Peel Group recently entered into a non-disclosure agreement with the mayor’s office. A non-disclosure agreement is a standard business practice in circumstances whereby, without prejudice, discussions take place between two parties. These discussions are a necessary step forward in order that ongoing matters can be resolved.”

Mr Houchen is marking his first year in office with other announcements, including the creation of an investment fund aimed at small and medium-sized businesses which have trouble getting money from banks, and the creation of a careers service.

Mr Houchen, whose wife is an assistant headteacher in Yarm, said: “When I was young, the quality of careers advice was not good – this is not the fault of schools, but because the teacher who has careers responsibilities is also doing a million and one other things.”

His service will ensure every pupil at each of the region’s 57 secondary schools will get at least “seven meaningful interactions” with businesses, and he will recruit 1,000 local businesses to provide work experience and mentoring.

On May 20, Mr Houchen is to travel to Japan and South Korea, taking representatives from Middlesbrough FC, Teesside University and PD Ports with him, on a first trade mission. He hopes also to drop in on Thailand and strike a deal with the banks which still control much of the former steelworks site in Redcar.

He feels this element of his role is even more important as Britain approaches Brexit, and he will continue to press for the huge site to become a “freeport”. Freedom from the EU, he says, would give the Tees Valley “infinite possibilities” to reduce taxes, tariffs and bureaucracy to attract specific businesses to the site.

“We are not talking about exempting ourselves from employment rights or environmental rights,” he said. “Those are central government decisions. We are talking about the business environment: we could say that if you bring your business to us you will get a 100 per cent capital allowance, or corporation tax relief, or complete exemption from VAT.

“We have a big investor who wants to put £5bn into an energy project on the development corporation site, and that will happen either in Teesside or not at all. We are not competing with Newcastle or Leeds, we are now competing on an international stage. We have another investor who will come to Teesside or Germany – business is global now, and some people don’t get that.”

Mr Houchen, 31, was elected a year ago before Corbynmania had whittled away Theresa May’s 20 point poll lead. A Northumbria University graduate, he became a corporate solicitor and then started his own business in conjunction with the Australian sportswear company, BKL. Having won contracts to produce shirts for West Indies cricket, England rugby league and Hartlepool United, he turned to politics.

“I knew when I declared my candidacy that if I won, I would have to take a massive pay cut, but money is not something that has ever really driven me,” he said. “I’m fortunate to be paid £36,000, which is a lot more than most people earn. Being able to represent the area where I was born and lived my full life is a vocation.”

He was elected to head a conglomeration of five councils which called itself “the Tees Valley” – a name not even the people who lived there really understood.

“But it’s not really about the name,” he said. “On a local level, we all have different identities, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised that when I’m in Middlesbrough talking about redeveloping Darlington station, it is the right thing to do: an investment in Darlington is an investment in them.

“It doesn’t really matter what you call us, but you are investing in a single community not five, we are a single economy from Darlington across to Redcar.

“We have got to run with the tag that we have got, and now “the Tees Valley” is a brand that is gaining traction across the country, across the world, and that’s why we must get behind it to develop business growth.”