The new chair of the North East Combined Authority has described being appointed to the role as ‘an honour’.

Cllr Paul Watson, leader of Sunderland City Council, was appointed chair at the annual general meeting of the North East Combined Authority (NECA) yesterday.

This followed the announcement by Cllr Simon Henig, leader of Durham County Council, that he would be standing down from the role.

Cllr Watson, chair of the North East Combined Authority, said: “It’s an honour to be appointed as chair of the North East Combined Authority, having been the lead for Economic Development and Regeneration since the combined authority was established.

“On behalf of my colleagues on the North East Leadership Board, I’d like to thank Cllr Henig for his hard work in chairing the combined authority in its first two years, as we have worked to get it up and running and then developed a devolution deal with the Government.

“It’s important to acknowledge the good progress that has been made over the last two years. I’m really looking forward to all of the NECA member authorities continuing to work together to create better opportunities for everyone in our region as we finalise arrangements for devolution.

“Working together more closely in the future will not only benefit individual authorities but elevate the economic performance of the whole of the North East nationally and globally.”

Speaking at the annual general meeting yesterday (June 21) Cllr Henig thanked members for their support and confirmed that he would be standing down as planned following two years at the helm.

Cllr Henig said: “I have been honoured to chair the North East Combined Authority over its first two years and in the months leading up to its formation.

“In that time we have firmly established the North East in the first wave of devolution across the country – something I, and many others, believe is key to achieving a bright future for us all.

“All of our major achievements – the formation of the Combined Authority in April 2014, the proposed devolution agreement in autumn 2015 and the agreement for the first devolution order in May 2016 – were landmark moments for the North East. All were argued by some to be impossible or very unlikely, with collapse frequently predicted. There were significant challenges at all stages.

“But collapse did not happen and we are still moving forward. We remain on track to establish the foundations of a strong, devolved North East. For this to succeed, I firmly believe there must be engagement and partnership across the region, from the business community to trade unions to members of parliament, voluntary and community groups and all of our residents. I believe this is vital for the future and to make devolution work. I also believe that recent changes in the Local Enterprise Partnership leave it in a very strong position to move forward and I am proud to have served as its vice chair.

“But this is the AGM and it was always intended that the position of chair rotated among our seven local authorities.  It is therefore appropriate that I stand down as chair of the North East Combined Authority and vice chair of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership.

“Can I thank everyone for their support over the last two and a half years.”