BUSINESS leaders and conservationalists on Teesside have signed a deal to speed up the planning process in a bid to boost the area’s economic fortunes.

Tees Valley Unlimited –the local enterprise partnership – and Natural England, the government’s environment adviser, have set up the agreement to identify suitable areas for new industries while protecting important natural habitats.

It is believed to be the first co-operation between an enterprise partnership and Natural England and aims to encourage early discussions between developers, local planners and conservation bodies to create a smoother planning process.

It is hoped it will reduce delays to development and increase the likelihood of planning permission being granted, which will in turn make the area more attractive to potential investors.

As well as being a thriving industrial area, the Tees estuary is of also of international importance for birds such as the red knot, common redshank and little tern.

Stephen Catchpole, Managing Director of TVU, and Adrian Vass, Area Manager for Natural England, launched the agreement at Greatham Creek – a haven for common terns and wading birds as well as common and grey seals. It is also part of Teesmouth National Nature Reserve, one of the jewels in the country’s conservation crown.

Mr Vass said: “This unique agreement marks the start of an exciting chapter for the Tees Valley in which regeneration and conservation go hand in hand.