Despite controversies, Houchen will point to investment secured. Credit: TVCA

Three to contest Tees Valley mayoralty

Just two contenders will go up against incumbent Ben Houchen when a mayor is chosen for the region on Thursday 2 May.

With less than a month until polling day, Green Party candidate Sally Bunce withdrew from the process last week, meaning that Houchen will face just two opponents: Labour’s Chris McEwan and Liberal Democrat Simon Thorley.

Houchen has been mayor for seven years, building on his victory in the inaugural 2017 vote by claiming a whopping 73% of the turnout in 2021.

The Tees Valley Combined Authority works across the area’s five local authority boundaries, taking in Middlesbrough, Darlington, Hartlepool, Stockton-on-Tees and Redcar & Cleveland.

As with other metro mayor roles – such as the incoming North East Mayoral Combined Authority – the mayor works with the councils, taking the lead on areas such as transport, economic development, skills and regeneration, including specifically for the TVCA the freeport site, which encompasses Teesworks.

There are also mayoral development commissions in place, at the Teesworks site (the former Redcar steelworks), and in central Middlesbrough and Hartlepool.

Never far from the headlines, Houchen retains strong levels of support, in the face of a general malaise nationally with ruling Conservatives, evidenced in a series of heavy by-election defeats.

Voters will ultimately decide, but seemingly Houchen’s brand has been damaged. The governance of the Teesworks regeneration zone was subjected to an independent inquiry last year – if not a more comprehensive National Audit Office review – and although the report found no evidence of corruption, there were a series of recommendations that made it clear transparency was not all it could be.

A further blow came with a High Court case brought by South Tees Development Corporation, set up by Houchen’s Tees Valley Combined Authority in 2017, in which PD Ports emerged victorious on the case’s main points.

Against that, Houchen will point to a record of bringing in investment where others have failed. SeAH Wind is building the world’s largest wind monopile manufacturing facility, while plans have advanced to bring back steel production in the area, with an electric arc furnace consented this month. There has also been progress with the Net Zero Teesside power station.

Teesside Airport is active once again, having been saved from closure by the public purse. There is also a plan to bring back the railway station as part of a £1bn transport plan. TVCA backing has also been crucial to get projects moving in Darlington, Stockton-on-Tees and Hartlepool.

Labour, the strongest party in much of the region, would be expected to mount the main challenge – a theory backed by current betting odds.

McEwan, a Darlington councillor since 1999 and that local authority’s current deputy leader, has worked in the NHS for more than 30 years. He has said his top priority is trust, and committed to improving transport.

Thorley, the Lib Dem candidate, has said that Houchen has put too much focus on headline-grabbing major projects, while neglecting biting local issues such as tackling poverty. Transport is also a priority.

Darlington born and bred, he worked in Taiwan before setting up a language training business in London, a firm he relocated to Darlington in 2020.

On the Teesworks issue, while McEwan supports a full National Audit Office investigation, Thorley is on record as saying he would seek a renegotiation of the deal with the developers involved in the controversial joint venture with the public sector.

Your Comments

Read our comments policy

Related Articles

Subscribe for free

Stay updated on the latest news and views in North East property


Keep updated on the latest news, deals, views and opportunities in North East property, in your inbox.

By subscribing, you are agreeing to Place Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.

"*" indicates required fields

Your Job Field*
Other regional Publications - select below