Tue Jul 21, 10:13 am ET

LONDON (AFP) – Nissan is to invest 200 million pounds to build electric car batteries in Sunderland, in a move that was hailed on Tuesday as a bold step towards turning Britain into a global leader in green auto making.

The move will create 350 jobs in Sunderland, and makes it a contender to build the Japanese car giant's new generation of electric vehicles.

"This product shows that Britain will lead the way in the new, low-carbon jobs of the future," Prime Minister Gordon Brown said, visiting the plant where the new jobs were announced on Monday.

Dave Osborne of the Unite labour union said: "Not only is it a vote of confidence in the skills and talents of the workforce at the Nissan plant in Sunderland, it is good news on jobs for a part of the country which has been hit so savagely by this recession," he said.

Environmentalists are keen to see electric cars replace pollution-spewing traditional vehicles -- but cautioned that Britain needs to do much more to promote renewable energy sources, to produce the power for electric vehicles.

"Electric cars are only as clean as the energy used to power them, and the UK's renewable energy industry is still underfunded, underdeveloped and lagging way behind the rest of Europe," said Tony Bosworth of Friends of the Earth.

Commentators hailed the move, noting that it comes after Japan's Toyota Motor said last week that it would start making a hybrid version of its Auris hatchback in Britain next year.

"Britain has taken a major step towards becoming the electric car-making capital of Europe," said the mass-market daily Sun newspaper.

Business Minister Peter Mandelson said Britain was leading the world.

"This is good news not just for the North East, but for the whole of the UK, helping to attract foreign investment and securing the UK's place as a global leader in hi-tech manufacturing and automotive industries," he said.