An MP has called on the Prime Minister to launch an inquiry into the transfer of publicly owned shares in the Teesworks site to private ownership in what he calls "crony contracts".

At Prime Ministers' Questions today (Wednesday January 11), Stockton North MP Alex Cunningham told Rishi Sunak that "taxpayers are set to lose tens of millions of pounds" as a result of the transfer of public assets to two Teesside businessmen.

But Simon Clarke and Jacob Young, two neighbouring North East Conservative MPs, accused Mr Cunningham of using parliamentary privilege to make a series of "damaging insinuations"

The Teesworks freeport zone is a flagship policy of the UK government which claims the project will create thousands of jobs both on the 4,500 acre site and through supply businesses to the freeport.

Read more: Plans for new hotel, shops and petrol station complex at North East industrial site​

At the outset of the project the site was evenly split between the publicly owned South Tees Development Corporation (STDC), which is chaired by Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen, and private developers - JC Musgrave Capital, Northern Land Management Ltd and DCS Industrial Ltd - who owned the other half.

However, in December 2021 changes to Teesworks' ownership were registered via Companies House which showed that the South Tees Development Corporation had ceased to be an entity with significant control of the company, retaining only 10 percent of ownership of the site.

Originally, the plan had been for STDC to retain its shares in Teesworks Limited and earn a return for the taxpayer by leasing the land to new green businesses which had chosen the redeveloped site as their home. 

In a statement, Mr Cunningham said that about "the transfer of valuable public assets into private hands - a transfer made without a full and transparent procurement process.

"It’s only right that this agreement and other contracts relating to it are properly scrutinised to ensure the Teesside public are getting a good deal."

Calling on Mr Houchen to engage with the issue of the transferral of ownership of Teesworks, Mr Cunningham added, "It’s time for the Tees Valley Mayor to stop behind hiding loopholes and insults, start treating the public with respect and be open about the deals at Teesworks. If he won’t then his friend the Prime Minister should launch an inquiry into it.”

In a statement to The Northern Echo, Ben Houchen disputed Alex Cunningham's claims, saying: “The Joint Venture Partnership Alex refers to, which it should be said was signed off by all local authorities, including Labour led Stockton Council, has been instrumental in unlocking the site which without them would still be sat empty costing the taxpayer at least £20m a year to keep safe.

"From the devastation seven years ago to the transformation that we promised and are delivering now is incredible.


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"I’d urge the member to park petty party politics and welcome the positive investments that is [sic] creating good quality well paid jobs that the people he is meant to represent will benefit from, instead of trying to smear with cheap political attacks that he wouldn’t dare say outside the Houses of Parliament."

Mr Young, Conservative MP for Redcar, said: "Together with Simon Clarke, I have complained to the Speaker of the House of Commons regarding the comments made today by the member for Stockton North.

"I am very disappointed that Mr Cunningham would use the cover of Parliamentary privilege to make damaging remarks in the House which he must know are untrue." 

Mr Clarke, Conservative MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, said: “If anyone doubts that Labour is determined to throw mud at Teesworks in the desperate hope that it sticks, this latest rant from Alex Cunningham should confirm it. 

"Together with Jacob Young, I have complained about his insinuations to the Speaker of the House of Commons. Indeed, I would challenge him to repeat what he said outside the protection of Parliamentary privilege because it would open him up to be sued.  

“Labour MPs like Alex Cunningham want Teesside to wallow in poverty and misery because that’s the whole basis of their offer to people. 

"They actively hate the new jobs and opportunities being created at Teesworks and they will come up with any old slander to try and talk this vital regeneration and investment down.

“This would simply be depressing if it didn’t have real world consequences. Labour talking down Teesside is harmful to inward investment and the wider reputation of our area. They are an absolute liability and they need to stop before they do real damage.”

Chris Musgrave and Martin Corney, Teesworks Partners, said in a joint statement: “It is disappointing that, Alex Cunningham MP has regularly tried to undermine the progress that has been on the former steel site over the past three years”
“Since the formation of our partnership with STDC in 2020, and working closely with the Tees Valley Mayor, Ben Houchen. we have worked hard to secure investment, remediate land and demolish numerous large steel structures, so as to create an ‘oven ready’ site for future development”
"As a result of such work, the construction of the South Bank Quay and the Worlds Largest Monopile Facility are now underway. The combined investment of the these two projects alone amounts to over £550m. This is the magnitude of the progress made and there is much more to come, which will result in 1000s of jobs for the people of Teesside”
“Recent statements made by Alex Cunningham under the veil of Parliamentary Privilege are false and have no foundation - his comments are irresponsible and mischievous with the sole intention of ‘torpedoing’ the site at any cost. He should realise that his words have the potential to adversely effect investment and the creation of jobs”
“Mr Cunningham would be well advised to get his facts right before he slanders and smears our reputation, and that of others”
"In May 2022, we wrote to Mr Cunningham and offered him a personal briefing on the progress of the site - he declined the offer. Indeed, his associate Andy McDonald declined a similar invitation in February 2021”
“We concluded then and nothing had changed since that, neither MP want to be associated with any success  with regard to site. It is clear that, both MPs are more interested in playing politics than assisting in the greater public good. Whilst they play political games, we will continue with our work to bring the site back to life, so that it’s full potential can be achieved”