A KEY election pledge of the Tees Valley Mayor to take an airport into public ownership is now another step closer to becoming reality.

Ben Houchen has revealed that a confidential agreement is in place with a private "well-known established airport operator" which is "very interested" in running Durham Tees Valley Airport.

The announcement comes just 24 hours after The Northern Echo exclusively revealed that discussions with the current majority owner of the airport, Peel, have progressed so far that a "non-disclosure agreement" has been signed, indicating that negotiations have reached a detailed and delicate stage.

Mr Houchen made the announcement during a speech at logistics firm AV Dawson in Middlesbrough yesterday, where he was discussing the achievements of his first 12 months in office, and outlining his plans for the future.

Speaking to The Northern Echo about the future of the airport, Mr Houchen said:"It is all in the balance at the moment - we are making some really serious progress with Peel, and the significance of that and signing the non-disclosable agreement shows we are in an advanced stage of talks.

"But we can't just rely on the deal with Peel - we have to make sure we have an experienced well-established airport operator to actually run it, and we do have that confidentially agreement in place with a well-established private sector operator who is very interested in coming along on the journey with us to make sure Teesside Airport is what we all think it should be."

Taking Durham Tees Valley Airport back in to public ownership was the headline grabbing announcement of Mr Houchen's election campaign last year, and he realises it was one of the main reasons why he was elected.

"Everyone knows I was elected on the basis of fulfilling this pledge, and I personally believe that I, and with the right team, we can turn around that airport and make it the success we know it can be.

"We need to take control of it, and going forward we need to establish a sensible airline operator to make sure we can run a sensible airport.

""We want to see more flights, more connectivity, but on the business side, freight and logistics hope to play an important role, so it is important for so many different things.

"It needs to be a well rounded airport, we want to see some more holiday flights obviously, that's what people want to see and feel on a day to day basis, but from a business perspective, we've got to use the airport as a logistics hub and make sure we have that connectivity."

Mr Houchen also revealed plans to visit Thailand for talks to secure the former SSI steelworks site, spend £25m of central government on revamping Darlington's Bank Top Station, and launch a £3m careers initiative to join the area#s 57 secondary schools with local businesses.

Speaking about his first year in office, Mr Houchen said: "It has been extremely tiring, there has been a lot of hard work, but it has gone past in the flash of an eye.

"I've enjoyed every minute of it, and there are so many good things going on.

"These are big projects and they will take time, but I urge people to keep the faith and they will be transformational for the Tees Valley."