THE St Helens North MP Dave Watts will stand down ahead of this year’s general election, the Star can reveal.

Mr Watts, 63, informed local party members this weekend that he will not be contesting the seat he has held since 1997.

He is currently the chairman of the parliamentary Labour party and his decision means he will also relinquish that role ahead of the election.

In a statement, Mr Watts, who has represented the constituency for the past 18 years,  said he had reached an “extremely difficult decision to retire from parliament”.

With the St Helens South and Whiston MP Shaun Woodward also stepping down, it means the borough, a traditional Labour stronghold, will be represented by two new MPs after the election.

Mr Watts said:”I have always tried to represent my constituents to the best of my ability and I feel that I would struggle to maintain that same level of commitment if I should seek re-election.

“I am very proud to have had the opportunity to help lead the regeneration of our town, and together with my staff, Pauline Lazenbury and Andy Bowden, to have helped thousands of my constituents with their everyday problems over the years.

“I am especially proud to have played a major role in securing the funding for St Helens College, our schools and hospitals, and to have been able to deliver the Blackbrook by-pass after a 50 year wait.

“I am also proud of the role that I played in securing planning permission and government funding for our new Saints stadium. I very much enjoyed helping Eamonn McManus realise his vision for the club.”

News of Mr Watts' decision prompted tributes from Westminster colleagues and political journalists.

They were led by Labour leader Ed Miliband, who said: "Dave Watts has been a fantastic member of parliament for St Helens north and we will miss him very much.

"Since being elected chair of the PLP in 2012 dave has led the parliamentary Labour party with his trademark good humour, diligence and decency.

"Respected and well liked across the whole party Dave will leave a big hole.

"I want to thank him on behalf of the whole Labour movement and on a personal level for the kindness, friendship and loyalty he has always shown me."