THIS month marks a milestone in my term as Tees Valley Mayor, and indeed in the whole history of devolution in Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool. After years of often bitter negotiations, we have struck a deal with SSI to take control of the former Redcar steelworks and bring it into local ownership.

It has been almost five years since our region’s steelworks closed, causing untold misery to thousands of families and plunging us to the bottom of the economic league tables. Since then we have made good progress, rebuilding and attracting new investment and new jobs. Former SSI workers have found new roles and started new businesses, but there has been something missing from both our economy and our identity.

By taking control of the former Redcar steelworks site we now have the building blocks in place to begin to repair this gap. The 4,500-acre site that was once so important to our economy will again provide good quality, well-paid jobs and prosperity in a significant way. These will be the industrial jobs we want; clean, green, skilled and well-paid opportunities in the energy, chemicals and advanced manufacturing sectors.

When SSI UK went out of business it owed hundreds of millions of pounds to three banks in Thailand, and its assets moved into the control of an official received. In response to the economic devastation caused by the steelworks’ closure, the Government founded the South Tees Development Corporation, which I chair as part of my role as mayor. This body was tasked with taking ownership of the former steelmaking site, including the SSI land.

After three years of negotiations, and under the threat of a looming Compulsory Purchase Order enquiry, negotiations entered their final phase. For my team and me this meant weeks of late nights, lost sleep and exhilaration – we made progress and faced disappointment as new hurdles appeared.

They say the night is darkest just before the dawn, and in this case it was. The day before we finalised the deal it looked like all was lost and no agreement was going to be possible, but we carried on working and found a way.

The immediate benefit of this is that 90 jobs at Redcar Bulk Terminal are now safe, but there is so much more to it. The deal includes a plan to develop a state-of-the-art Electric Arc Furnace within three years and we can now start landing the deals that have been held up because of the issues surrounding land ownership.

The land could also form part of a freeport, which would supercharge our region’s economy and speed up my plans for job creation and growth. This would make us even more attractive to potential investors, by giving tax breaks when they import, export, build factories, buy equipment or invest in research and development.

All of this is part of a wider plan for the Tees Valley economy, which includes all of the money we are spending on skills and training, our revitalised airport and the new business zone there, and the major upgrades I am spearheading for our transport infrastructure.

This is just the start; we have the building blocks in place and we’re making great progress. We’re securing the investment that is creating the jobs now and for the future.

But we cannot go back to square one, we cannot go back to a time when our region was not taken seriously. Securing the former Redcar steelworks site from SSI marks the beginning of a new era for Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool – let’s keep going.