ON Thursday business leaders will tell MPs of their ambition to expand the region's chemical and process sector by £4.5bn in the next five to ten years.

The North-East Process Industry Cluster (Nepic) is forecasting the growth in sectors such as bioprocessing and speciality chemicals, which could create up to 3,000 jobs in the region.

The industry leaders will reveal their aims at an all-party meeting with North-East MPs at Westminster, where speakers will include Secretary of State for Trade and Industry Alan Johnson and Government Chief Whip and MP for North-West Durham Hilary Armstrong.

The £4.5bn figure is the amount Nepic believes process industry owners and international investors are willing to commit to investment in production facilities and new projects in the North-East.

The forecast was compiled in a confidential review by Nepic of projects at the planning and discussion stage among leading companies with production bases in the region.

Nepic chairman Bob Coxon said: "I believe the meeting will turn out to be a milestone in determining the future wealth of the North-East. Since the process industry is such a large part of our economy, we needed a cohesive view of how we can grow. Business leaders working together have created an exciting plan, which will generate economic wealth, new investment and new jobs."

But the industry will also remind MPs that improving the region's transport links and raising the profile of science education will also be vital.

In common with other technology industries, Nepic is concerned by a growing skills shortage, with an estimated 1,000 technicians needed in emerging sectors.