Tory Ben Houchen says he will not stand as new mayor of North East, saying he already has 'big job'

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A top regional Tory has ruled himself out of the race to become the first North East mayor.

A £4.2bn devolution deal announced on Wednesday will serve two million people living across Northumberland, Tyne and Wear and County Durham. A new mayor will be elected and the proposed North East Mayoral Combined Authority (MCA) will be given a £1.4bn investment fund to be delivered over 30 years.

There will also be control of up to £563m to improve rail services up to 2027, £17.4m to speed up the building of new homes on brownfield land and £20m for regeneration projects. The bus network could also be brought back into public ownership and the body could have full control over the £60m-a-year adult education and skills budget.

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It is thought that the current North of Tyne mayor Jamie Driscoll will be going up against the Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner Kim McGuinness to be the Labour Party candidate.

Ben Houchen.Ben Houchen.
Ben Houchen.

However it is not clear who will be vying for the Conservative nomination. Tory Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen was asked whether he would be throwing his hat in the ring.

The role will represent more people and have more cash to splash, but Mr Houchen said: “I won’t be standing for the North East position. I’ve got a much bigger job here.”

The Tees Valley devolution deal brought together five authorities in May 2017 – Darlington, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Redcar and Cleveland and Stockton. The deal secured £450m over the next 30 years for the region, plus a further £500m to invest in local projects.

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The Tees Valley Combined Authority will not be affected by the plans for the North East body as they will operate independently. Mr Houchen was first elected as Tees Valley mayor in 2017, defeating Labour’s Sue Jeffrey by just over 2,000 votes.

The Tory mayor shored up support in 2021 and beat Labour’s Jessie Joe Jacobs, after winning 73% of the vote.