Darlington Labour leader Stephen Harker has said he “absolutely does not want to defund Teesside Airport” despite reports its 'continued funding' was something he wanted to change. 

Mr Harker clarified comments made in the i newspaper on Saturday (April 29) which suggested he wanted to “change the dynamic” of the Tees Valley Combined Authority “singling out the continued funding for Teesside Airport as an example for change.”

The Darlington Labour group leader, who is hoping to lead the council following Thursday’s local elections, which would therefore make him part of the TVCA cabinet which Mr Houchen chairs, has told the Echo he has always backed the airport and ‘absolutely does not’ want to defund it.

But Mr Houchen said he believed Labour 'haven't changed' and maintained 'a vote for Labour next week is a vote to defund Teesside Airport and close it'.

Read more: Darlington's future on the line as parties battle for power at local elections

Mr Harker said: “I absolutely do not want to defund the airport – it would be madness to do that.

The Northern Echo: Stephen Harker fully backs the airportStephen Harker fully backs the airport (Image: STUART BOULTON)

“We supported the bid to buy the airport and it needs to be given the opportunity to succeed. What was missing from the piece in the i was context.

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“The public have a right to know how that is going and whether the plan is working when the airport has been given £80m of public money.

“It was a ten year plan and it needs to be given the opportunity to work through. I absolutely do not want to defund the airport.”

Last July new accounts revealed the airport had made an £11.8m loss the previous year.

Mr Harker, who voted to implement the airport's 10-year rescue plan in 2019 and sits on the TVCA scrutiny committee, added: “I’m not worried about it making a loss.

“Any new project that needs investment is likely to lose money at first. We just need to know it’s going in the right direction.”

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Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen had picked up on the comments in the i on Saturday saying in a post on Facebook, saying: “This is what’s at stake next week at local elections. They (Labour) destroyed our airport by selling it to Peel and allowing them to run it down. Labour even granted planning permission for 350 houses on the airport.

“They haven’t changed, and a vote for Labour next week is a vote to defund Teesside Airport and close it. Don’t believe me, just listen to the Darlington Labour group leader who said as much.”

Voters in the Tees Valley will head to the polls in local council elections on Thursday May 4.