WITH just 90 days to go until local government elections, councillors have launched into a debate over whether Tory Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen has achieved more for the area than Labour Sedgefield MP Tony Blair did as Prime Minister.

Darlington Borough Council’s chamber erupted as leading members sought to highlight the achievements of both politicians.

Conservative members claimed Mr Houchen had “the ear of the Government”, meaning the area had attracted more funding then a Labour mayor would have been able to.

Members of the Labour-run authority’s appeared irritated after leader of the opposition Councillor Heather Scott said if Mr Houchen had not been Tees Valley mayor then Durham Tees Valley Airport would not have been taken back into public ownership.

She highlighted how before Mr Houchen was elected the Labour leaders of the Tees Valley Combined Authority had agreed to give the airport’s owners Peel £500,000 “to prop up their activities at the airport”.

Cllr Scott said the agreement “stated quite clearly that Peel had no intention of keeping the airport open after 2021”.

She added: “If that had not been overturned by Ben Houchen we would not have had Tees Valley Airport.”

Fellow Conservative member Gerald Lee added: “I think every councillor in this Cabinet and every council in the North-East should be grateful for what Ben Houchen’s done. He’s done more in this short term of office than Mr Blair did as Prime Minister for however many years. That included when he had six Cabinet members based here in the North-East.”

In response, the authority’s leader Councillor Stephen Harker suggested Cllr Lee was telling “tall stories”.

He said: “Ben Houchen has done more than Tony Blair? I don’t know where to start. New schools, minimum wage, improved waiting times at hospitals which are now returning to pre-Labour Government waits.”

Cllr Harker said the £583m Tees Valley Combined Authority Investment Plan was available as a result of the five Tees Valley councils establishing a combined authority, rather than purely the lobbying skills of Mr Houchen.

Chairman of the council’s resources scrutiny committee Councillor Ian Haszeldine said people “shouldn’t believe the hype around what Ben Houchen has done” and said it remained unclear if the airport ownership changes would be a success.

He added: “He is very good at getting the credit, he is the mayor, he’s entitled to do that..

“While Ben Houchen in the eyes of the Conservatives is all-singing, all-dancing, the realities are a little bit different when you look at the information’s that been provided.