The man in control of the Teesside Freeport is to quit, the Northern Echo can reveal.

It comes as Michael Gove confirmed an inquiry into 'serious allegations of corruption, wrongdoing and illegality' at Teesworks.

Freeport Director Nolan Gray is to take up another appointment outside Tees Valley Combined Authority, telling The Northern Echo he has achieved his main goal of setting up and launching the freeport.

He said: “I have delivered against my objectives to deliver the first Freeport in the UK and now I am moving back to the private sector to drive and deliver more projects into the region.”

News of his departure was confirmed to the Echo today - but TVCA bosses said he resigned from his role in March.

The news comes as the Levelling Up Secretary said since 'serious allegations of corruption, wrongdoing and illegality have been made', he will ask an independent panel to 'address these accusations directly, and to report on the governance arrangements at STDC including how decisions are made, as well as looking at the value achieved for the investment of public money on the site'.

The Levelling Up Secretary said he will ask an independent panel to 'address these accusations directly, and to report on the governance arrangements at STDC including how decisions are made, as well as looking at the value achieved for the investment of public money on the site'.

Read More: Michael Gove confirms Teesworks investigation

But Mr Gove's announcement was criticised as a 'joke' by opposition MPs because the Level Up Minister will apoint the review panel himself, rather than it being carried out by the National Audit Office.

News of Mr Gray's departure and what happens next is a pivotal moment as Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen battles to deliver the project that aims to regenerate the region with the creation of thousands of new jobs.

Mr Houchen said: "I'd like to thank Nolan for his tireless work and the immense experience he brought in the key role of Freeport Director. 

"Those who are at the front line of driving forward tranformational change are in high demand, and, with our reputation for getting things done on Teesside, it's no surprise he's been snapped up by another organisation which has seen the success of our area. 

"We look forward to continuing to work with Nolan in striving for more investment opportunities for our region and wish him all the best for the future."

The Northern Echo: Freeport Director Nolan GrayFreeport Director Nolan Gray (Image: Newsquest)

Mr Gove said: “I have considered calls for such an investigation to be led by the National Audit Office (NAO). It is not, however, the NAO’s role to audit or examine individual local government bodies and its powers would not normally be used for that purpose.

“I do not think it would be appropriate to expand so significantly the role of the NAO by asking them to lead this inquiry. Nonetheless, I would welcome the NAO updating its review of Government’s funding arrangements for STDC.

“Given the importance to you and to Teesside of addressing this matter, I have taken the exceptional decision to support the commissioning of an independent review to consider the specific allegations made and Tees Valley Combined Authority’s oversight of the STDC and Teesworks joint venture.

“As set out above, this is not because I am advised that there is evidence to recommend such a review, but to answer your request of 16 May. I will appoint a Panel, in line with established practice, to undertake an independent, external assurance review.

“Since serious allegations of corruption, wrongdoing and illegality have been made, I will ask the Panel to address these accusations directly, and to report on the governance arrangements at STDC including how decisions are made, as well as looking at the value achieved for the investment of public money on the site.

“I will publish detailed terms of reference shortly. I will invite any interested party, including Members of Parliament, to make representations to the Panel as part of their evidence gathering. The report and any recommendations will of course be published in line with usual practice.”

Mr Houchen said: "I welcome the Government agreeing to my request for an independent review into the Teesworks project, including the involvement of the NAO. As someone whose primary responsibility, as Mayor of the Tees Valley, is to attract investment and create jobs for local people, I felt that the recent misinformation and the abuse of Parliamentary Privilege by Andy McDonald was starting to have a negative impact on the prospects of Teesside and the local community.

“I feel that an independent review is necessary to show investors, businesses and local people that there is no corruption, wrongdoing or illegality in what has become and continues to be an incredible project for jobs and investment in our region.

“I look forward to the outcome, in due course, and will be making no further comment until the independent review has been completed, so to allow the independent body to carry out their work without influence or favour. My officers stand ready to provide any and all information requested by the independent review.”

The 4,500-acre Freeport stretches across the region to include Teesworks, Wilton International, Teesside International Airport, the Port of Middlesbrough, the Port of Hartlepool, Liberty Steel Hartlepool, LV Shipping and Teesport.

Its goal is 18,000 jobs to be created, £200m invested and a £1bn boost to the local economy.

The Northern Echo: Freeport Director Nolan Gray at a Level Up eventFreeport Director Nolan Gray at a Level Up event (Image: Newsquest)


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Mr Nolan has already given The Northern Echo an idea of how important the role has been.

He said:  “As Freeport Director, I work closely with colleagues right across the Combined Authority Group with technical expertise in Regeneration, Skills, Transport, Clean Growth and Innovation, to target those sustainable, clean energy businesses we’re keen to see come to the Freeport.

“Given our size and scope I also work alongside the senior leadership teams and key figures from our key assets and organisations including Wilton International, the Wilton Centre, PD Ports, Port of Middlesbrough, Redcar Bulk Terminal, Able UK, Teesside International Airport and Teesworks who have been invaluable and passionate supporters of this project.”

Reacting to the announcement of the investigation, shadow communities secretary Lisa Nandy said: “This is bizarre. The Secretary of State’s letter refers to an organisation that doesn’t yet exist to hide the fact that there has been a complete breakdown in accountability on his watch.

“The National Audit Office has the experience, capacity and independence to carry out an investigation, and Michael Gove has the power to order that investigation. Why, then, is he setting up a review where the terms and members will be chosen by him?

“The Government must not hide from proper scrutiny, and there is no clear justification for not ordering a comprehensive, independent investigation from the NAO.”