Teesworks: Government blocks release of documents showing decisions behind unusual investigation into redevelopment | Politics News

The government has blocked the release of documents which would show the decision-making behind a controversial investigation into the redevelopment of Teesside.

Tory MPs voted down a measure tabled by Labour in the House of Commons, by 272 to 166.

It came after Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove announced the composition of a three-person panel which will inspect the Teesworks site.

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The row is taking place after Labour MPs called for a statutory inquiry into the project in the North East, which the government declined to authorise.

Middlesbrough MP Andy McDonald previously raised concerns about the Teesworks scheme, alleging “truly shocking, industrial-scale corruption”.

But instead of commissioning the National Audit Office to look at Teesworks, Mr Gove brought together “an independent assurance review” in an unusual move.

Teesworks is the project which is redeveloping the Teesside industrial site, including the former Redcar steelworks.

There has been controversy over the way the project has been run, including how a substantial chunk of the ownership of a company developing the site was transferred from the publicly run Tees Valley Combined Authority (TVCA) into private hands.

The site of the old steelworks is being redeveloped
The site of the old steelworks is being redeveloped

Ben Houchen, the Conservative mayor of the Tees Valley, has come under scrutiny as leader of the TVCA and also chair of the company developing the site, the South Tees Development Company, which is now 90% privately held – instead of in a 50-50 split with the public.

He has been among those calling for a full inquiry and says he has nothing to hide.

The panel which will now look after the investigation consists of Angie Ridgwell, chief executive of Lancashire County Council; Quentin Baker, the director of law and governance at Hertfordshire County Council; and Richard Paver, who was the first treasurer of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority.

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Speaking after the vote in parliament, Labour’s shadow levelling up secretary Lisa Nandy said: “Having rejected cross-party calls, including from the Conservative Mayor, for a National Audit Office investigation, ministers need to clarify that the review they have set up will have all the same powers as the NAO would have had to review the accounts and assess the decisions that have been made in relation to Teesworks.”

She accused him of launching “an investigation on his own terms, hand-picking a panel to investigate an issue where accountability has totally broken down”.

Mr Houchen said: “I look forward to the outcome, in due course, and will be making no further comment until the independent review has been completed, so to allow the independent body to carry out their work without influence or favour. My officers stand ready to provide any and all information requested by the independent review.”

Levelling up minister Lee Rowley called for MPs across the chamber to respect the government’s course of action.