Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen has said that a local MP is "always wrong" in response to a question he asked in Parliament this week about an apparent lack of completed paperwork from prospective tenants at the Teesworks freeport site.

In a Parliamentary session on Tuesday (February 28) about the Tees freeport's net zero ambitions, Stockton North MP Alex Cunningham asked Energy Minister Graham Stuart to confirm how many businesses that had committed to bringing jobs to Teesside had actually completed paperwork on tenancy agreements at the freeport site.

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"Can the Minister confirm," he asked, "that despite countless promises of 30,000 jobs, just one company has so far signed a contract to set up premises at the Tees freeport?"

The "one company" referred to by Mr Cunningham is SeAH Winds, who are in the process of building an enormous half-mile-long factory on the Teesworks site to supply monopiles for offshore windfarms. Construction of the site is expected to create around 1,500 supply chain jobs, while the operational factory will employ around 750 people.

In comments to The Northern Echo, Mr Houchen said: "Alex is wrong, but then again, Alex is always wrong. He has never been to the steelworks site. If he had, he would know that SeAH are well under construction with their world leading monopile factory, NZT are building a 1GW power station and world leading CCUS technologies, Circular Fuels are building a decarbonised LPG plant and we're building a brand new £107m heavy lift quay that will connect our businesses to the rest of the world."

Mr Stuart refused to answer the question from Mr Cunningham about the number of businesses committed to Teesworks, instead referring to the vote by Middlesbrough Council against the establishment of a Development Corporation - to be headed by Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen.

"They voted against the establishment of a new body that would bring £18 million of investment to Middlesbrough," said Mr Stuart before being stopped by the Speaker.

Last week councillors in Middlesbrough voted against the creation of a new development corporation for the town due to concerns about the accountability of its governance and the transferral of public assets.

Read next: Petition calling to stop Tees dredging reaches 20,000 signatures

The UK Government's Department for Levelling Up last week confirmed that the Middlesbrough Development Corporation would be set up regardless of the council's vote. Middlesbrough MP Andy McDonald said that it was a "scandalous denial of democracy".

The Northern Echo: The SeAH Wind site at Teesworks is 90 acres in size.The SeAH Wind site at Teesworks is 90 acres in size. (Image: Newsquest)

Ownership of the Teesworks site was initially 50 per cent owned by the Tees Valley Combined Authority (TVCA) via its company the South Tees Development Corporation (STDC). However, it transpired last year that 90% of STDC's shares in Teesworks had been transferred to companies owned by businessmen Chris Musgrave and Martin Corney at the end of 2021.

It was originally thought that public ownership of Teesworks shares would mean that rents paid by businesses who set up at the freeport would reimburse the public purse after the initial investment from taxpayers.



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Regarding promised jobs at the Teesworks site, Mr Cunningham said: “It’s all fine and well talking about jobs to come but these don’t pay the bills. Rather than dodge or deflect the question entirely, Ministers need to come clean about the deals on the Teesside freeport and on exactly how many jobs have so far been created.

"Local people can only benefit from the freeport if jobs actually exist.”