A devolution deal means that in May, subject to Parliamentary approval, a new combined authority will be formed in the North East, with a new Mayor elected.

Interim portfolio holder for culture, creative, tourism and sport is Cllr Amanda Hopgood, Leader of Durham County Council.

Cllr Hopgood explains how preparations are being made and her aspirations for the new authority.

It’s a fact that is known to anyone who calls our region home - that we are a unique place.

While that is a claim often made by other regions too we know that in our case it’s true.

Where else can boast three cities – each with their own authentic identity – with national and international appeal. We have award-winning coasts, breath-taking rural landscapes, historic market towns, and two National Landscapes (formerly areas of outstanding natural beauty).

There is no contender in the UK.

Throw in Premier League football, first class cricket, Premiership rugby and the world’s biggest half marathon in The Great North Run and we have sporting reasons to be proud of too.

Our history and heritage are incredible, with two sites – Durham Castle and Cathedral and Hadrian’s Wall – on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.

Amidst this impressive background comes our devolution deal. This gives us the chance to grow our regional economy with culture, creativity, the visitor economy, leisure and sport at its heart.

Our focus is to celebrate and promote the region to the world at the same time as reminding anyone who calls it home why it’s so unique, and open up new possibilities for them to enjoy living here.

We have a history of collaboration. The bids by NewcastleGateshead, Sunderland and County Durham for European Capital of Culture or UK City of Culture were backed by the whole region.

We came together to support these areas and celebrate our places and culture. We also collaborate across the region on other existing cultural programmes. But when we don’t work as one we spread our focus too thin we don’t sell the cultural power of the whole region.

Our deal can change that. Together we can speak with one voice for what this region has to offer to our residents and our visitors.

As well as giving our residents the opportunities to enjoy the place they live we can encourage those coming here for their higher education to stay. Improving our transport system through our devolution deal will also help our people to enjoy the region easier. We want an improved transport system not just to connect people to their place of education or work but so they can easily enjoy what is on their doorstep.

Visitors from afar have an International Airport and train connectivity to London. For those people who come to just one part of the region for a night or two we want them to stay for a

week. Even a week isn’t long enough to see all we have to offer. A new conference and exhibition centre being built in Gateshead gives another reason for people to visit us – and stay for longer.

The deal allows us to make the regional links better between our culture and our economy. Culture is more than just a ‘nice to have’, it is essential to growing our economy through culture-led regeneration. We are seeing our towns, cities and high streets change to become more than just shopping destinations but places people can spend time and be involved in arts and culture.

We can also see benefits by investing in our cultural sector to create new employment opportunities for people. With the natural assets and space to create TV and Film studios there are huge opportunities to grow this sector and others.

There are also benefits of growing our cultural economy for health and wellbeing. As a region with high levels of child poverty and inequalities we can use our deal to support more residents to be more active.

All of us living here know what this region has to offer. We know it is unique.

Now is the time to seize the opportunity to show everyone else what we already know.