THE owners of a North Tyneside chemical plant which burned to the ground have confirmed they are selling up and leaving the region.

Distillex is to sell its North Shields site and start a new operation closer to the company's headquarters in Leyland, Lancashire. Twelve workers have already been made redundant.

Hundreds of people were evacuated from their homes for the night after emergency services imposed a half-mile exclusion zone around the East Percy Street site on Friday, April 12.

The blaze came two months after police had to close down streets around the plant after a chemical reaction caused a poisonous gas leak.

The decision by the firm's board to relocate comes as the Health and Safety Executive continues its investigations into the fire, which has been blamed on human error.

Distillex has said it will use some of a £400,000 insurance payout to help pay for the new plant. It will also be compensated for the costs of suspending production at the North Shields plant, which recycled solvent materials.

A North Tyneside Council spokesman said: "The site is designated under our Unitary Development Plan for employment purposes and we would want to see it redeveloped again.

"We would certainly be very careful about what kind of employment use would be permitted in the future."