Plans by Heather Mills to take over the former Walkers factory have been welcomed by a local MP.
PepciCo closed its crisp-making plant in Peterlee towards the end of last year when it said it needed to make savings through its Walkers brand, leading to the loss of around 350 jobs.
Now Heather Mills, a former model, activist, businesswoman and media personality, who originally hails from Washington, has confirmed she has bought the Stephenson Road site with the aim of turning it into a production line for her VBites food firm.
That will continue the town’s 50-year tradition of making snacks on the site.
Easington MP Grahame Morris has said he was contacted at around the time the Walkers factory was closing, but was unable to reveal any details as negotiations were under way.
Mr Morris hopes to see a deal rubber-stamped take on the site, with around 130 people to be taken on initially with a chance that could rise to 255 or more as the products make their way into more shops.
The MP helped put VBites in contact with parties involved in the site and business support organisations as discussions began.
He said: “I continue to be very supportive of discussions that have been ongoing with Heather Mills and her representatives since Walkers announced the closure of their Peterlee operation.
“This could be much needed good news for Peterlee, which has 50 years experience of manufacturing top quality snacks at this site.
“I would like to thank Heather for her commitment and willingness to invest in our community and in the jobs this project could deliver.
This could be much needed good news for Peterlee, which has 50 years experience of manufacturing top quality snacks at this site.Grahame Morris
“I look forward to snack food manufacturing returning to Peterlee and would be delighted to see VBites products made in Peterlee on supermarket shelves in the near future.
“The town has a long tradition of manufacturing high quality products on that site and the hundreds who were made redundant will be interested in the potential that it could reopen.”
The development has also been welcomed by Tom Allison senior organiser for Durham and Tees with the GMB, which is the union which represented most of the Walkers employees.
He said: “This could give job opportunities to those who have been unable to secure employment and get well-paid employment, because a lot of job opportunities are of the type with low or minimum wages, rather than good production jobs and we hope we get those back.
“While this is still in the embryonic stages, we see the plans Heather has and the potential has to offer in terms of employment for the area, but she is also someone who has an understanding of the North East and she knows the work ethic of people in this area.”