Tory mayor Houchen brands Labour MP ‘liar and coward’ over Teesworks row

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A prominent Tory mayor has gone on air to brand a Labour MP a “liar and a coward” in a row over a major development project.

Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen hit out at Middlesbrough MP Andy McDonald as their feud over the Teesworks scheme deepened.

Mr Houchen challenged the MP to repeat allegations of corruption in the scheme without the protection of parliamentary privilege.

On BBC Radio 4’s World at One he said: “Andy McDonald is a liar and he’s a coward.”

He added: “He would never repeat those accusations outside of Parliament because he is a liar.”

Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove has ordered an independent investigation into the Teesworks project to redevelop Redcar’s former steelworks, partly in response to a request from Mr Houchen.

In April, Mr McDonald raised concerns about the scheme in the Commons, alleging “truly shocking, industrial-scale corruption” around the site’s ownership and funding.

He said the site acquired by the public body South Tees Developments Limited for £12 million in 2019 subsequently received hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayer investment, but “private developers exercised their option to purchase for a mere £1 an acre plus inflation, paying £96.79 in December 2022”.

Mr Houchen told the BBC: “The reason for the investigation is because Andy McDonald lied and said that there was corruption. He has no evidence, he’s produced no evidence, he didn’t even give any examples or evidence within Parliament.”

He said the site was “never a public asset”, telling the BBC: “They had control of the site and they transferred 50% to us, as the public sector. There was no tender process because it was never owned by the public.”

Mr McDonald declined to repeat his corruption allegation when he followed Mr Houchen onto the World at One.

Instead he said: “Well, this doesn’t pass the smell test, any of it. There are so many elements to this that warrant very close scrutiny and investigation.”

Interrupted and asked if he would repeat the comments outside of Parliament, Mr McDonald replied: “Well, I’m quite happy to sit down with Ben and go through my concerns with him.”

Told that it was interesting he would not repeat the accusation when he does not have legal protection, Mr McDonald noted there will be an independent investigation which will “opine on these various elements”.

Pressed further and asked if he made a mistake with the “corruption” allegation, Mr McDonald said: “I think it’s absolutely right that these matters receive attention.”

Asked if his language was wrong, the MP said: “I think it has gained attention for these very serious issues that have been raised by Private Eye and by the Financial Times and I think hitherto the Government has been quite happy to go along with the hard hats and promises approach of Ben Houchen and just say: ‘Nothing to see here.’

“There’s a great deal to see here.”

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