A new “trailblazer” devolution deal that will bring funding to unlock the building of a major film studio in Sunderland has officially been signed.

The region’s political leaders gathered next to Durham Cathedral this morning (Monday, March 18) to put pen to paper on the £100 million-plus add-on to the historic deal that will see a new North East mayor elected in May.

The North East becomes just the third region in England, following Greater Manchester and the West Midlands, to be given the “deeper” devolution powers.

Seven councils across Tyne and Wear, Northumberland and Durham signed a multi-billion pound devolution settlement with the Government last year, agreeing to establish a new North East Mayoral Combined Authority and mend a political split between areas on either side of the Tyne.

And Chancellor Jeremy Hunt confirmed in his Budget earlier this month that the region would receive a further transfer of powers and funding under the new trailblazer.

That includes money to deliver a £25m investment into the redevelopment of the Sunderland Riverside, enabling the building of the much-heralded Crown Works film and TV studios.

The trailblazer commitment also features a £10m investment into Newcastle University’s regeneration of the city’s old general hospital site and separate plans to transform the former Elswick leadworks into the vast Quayside West development, £58m brought forward for maintenance of the Tyne and Wear Metro, and greater control over the building of new affordable housing.

Speaking at the deal signing at Durham University’ St Chad’s College, North Tyneside’s elected mayor Dame Norma Redfearn said the long-awaited delivery of a devolution deal for the whole of the North East would mean “everyone can realise that the North doesn’t end at the M62”.

Levelling Up minister Jacob Young added that the region had for too long been “overlooked, undervalued, and lacking the power it needs to shape its own future”.

Speaking to the media afterwards, he said: “Devolution is about taking back control. In the North East we have been on this journey for some time.

"It is 20 years this year since John Prescott tried to push a regional assembly on us here in the North East and now we have finally settled on a deal that works for people here, that isn’t just about powers but is about listening to the communities on the ground, hearing what they have to say, and allowing them to take their ideas forward. I think this is a real opportunity for the North East to have a really loud voice on the national stage championing their issues.”

The region’s initial devolution deal, which will give the new mayor powers over areas including transport and the creation of mayoral development corporations, is expected to receive its final ratification in Parliament this week – paving the way for an election to be held on May 2. 

Asked about governance concerns surrounding mayoral authorities following the row surrounding the Teesworks project in Redcar, which is in Mr Young’s constituency, the minister said that “the issues in Teesside are specific to Teesside”. 

An inquiry into that scheme, published earlier this year, raised concerns around transparency and oversight – though it said there was “no evidence to support allegations of corruption or illegality”.

Mr Young said: “That was the first mayoral development corporation outside of London and obviously there is going to be learning from that we can take away.

"But I stand resolutely behind [Conservative Tees Valley mayor] Ben Houchen and the leadership he has given for the people of the Tees Valley and I am sure the people of Teesside will support him in May.”

Durham County Council leader Amanda Hopgood, whose authority was the last to sign up to the devolution deal during protracted negotiations in 2022, said that the signing of the trailblazer in the city “demonstrates just how far we have come”.

After a report from the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) last Friday warned that the Government was “unable to provide any compelling examples of what Levelling Up funding has delivered so far”, Coun Hopgood said she hoped devolution would bring clear improvements across the North East.

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The Liberal Democrat, whose coalition administration spent more than £1m on failed bids to the Levelling Up Fund, added: “It is really important because of what went wrong with the Levelling Up bids across the country. Devolution means that those decisions are made locally  by local people who know what the priorities are for their area.

“Let’s learn from what has maybe not been very well-managed or run and look to the future.”

Glen Sanderson, the Conservative leader of Northumberland County Council, praised the “extraordinary” cross-party consensus that delivered the devolution deal and said it would “speed up tackling inequalities, and bring new jobs, new opportunity, and new confidence”.