BEN HOUCHEN has opened the new year with a blizzard of announcements about what he would do if he were elected in May for a third term as Tees Valley mayor.

His opponents would dismiss them as a snowstorm of gimmicks.

Only on Monday, there was the promise of electric trackless trams bussing people around our town centres within two years. This is part of a £1bn splurge of transport initiatives, from a £150m transport hub in Stockton to a £250m Darlington northern relief road, all of which would be funded by a windfall following the scrapping of the northern leg of HS2.

He’s going to explore a tunnel under the Tees and then he’s going to build a replacement hospital for North Tees, even though, on paper at least, he doesn’t have the power or the money to go round building facilities for the NHS.

However, he does have a gift for the headlines, and he has identified a hole: there was palpable disappointment in the region when David Cameron’s government scrapped the proposed £454m North Tees and Hartlepool hospital development at Wynyard in 2010, and now there is hope that a replacement is on the cards. People are as attached to their local hospital as they are to their airport.

However, as well as looking forward, the election has to be about passing judgement on the last two terms.

Lord Houchen has got things done – name another re-nationalised airport in the country – but the questioning over how he got some of them done grew to such a crescendo last spring that the Government ordered an inquiry into corruption claims at Teesworks, the former steel site at Redcar which is now Europe’s largest brownfield site.

Lord Houchen denies any impropriety, and the Department of Levelling Up said it has “seen no evidence of corruption, wrongdoing or illegality”.

When the inquiry was announced rather hastily by Rishi Sunak on June 7, it was said it would report “in the summer”. Summer has come and gone, so has autumn and now the winter’s snows are on the ground.

If you had a builder who promised to come around within five or six weeks and he hadn’t shown up six or seven months later, you’d be asking questions.

Especially if in the meantime there had been a regular drip drip of probing, most notably by Private Eye.

Last week at a Commons committee hearing, the Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery said there was a “big feeling this has been kicked into the long grass because of the mayoral elections in Teesside”.

The Labour chair of the committee, Liam Byrne, said that Teesworks’ latest accounts showed that 110 acres of public land had been bought by a company 90 per cent owned by “friends and close associates of Lord Houchen” for £1 an acre “is now turning over £143m and shovelling £50m out to private shareholders in profits”.

Levelling Up secretary Michael Gove, in charge of the inquiry, refused to set a timetable for the publication, but said: “No one wants it published more than Ben Houchen himself, because he wants the mayoral election to be about what he’s achieved, his record, his plans for the future, and for all of these issues to be out there, tackled, and people being able to make a judgment based on the facts.”

So it has to be published before the election. In fact, it has to be published in good time before it because it is going to be contentious and its conclusions will need to be rigorously tested so that voters can pass a reasoned judgement on the past before deciding whether they want to entrust the future to Lord Houchen.

The election is on May 2. To be fair to all concerned, the report that is now six months overdue really has to be published within weeks – before the spring bulbs start pushing through the snows.