A MAYOR has been accused of misleading the public over the cost of demolishing part of a former steelwork site by his rival.
Jessie Joe Jacobs, the Labour candidate to be Tees Valley mayor, accused incumbent Ben Houchen of “misleading the public” over the cost of retaining Redcar’s blast furnace.
In July, Mr Houchen announced the blast furnace and coke ovens on the former SSI site were among the structures to be demolished as part of a five-year £150m programme to clear the site for regeneration.
He has previously said the cost of retaining the structure would be “astronomical” and is expected to be in excess of £33m.
The cost of demolishing the furnace is not known.
Ms Jacobs, who is part of the Save our Steel Heritage campaign, which was launched last week, says having the blast furnace as a tourism attraction would create jobs and could unlock potential investment in the site.
She said:“The former steel works site has huge potential for jobs, industry and investment. To have a significant heritage structure such as the blast furnace, as an iconic attraction, not only unlocks further investment potential in the site, it also unlocks more jobs and investment for the whole of Redcar, by putting it firmly on the international tourist map.
“We need jobs for everyone and having both a tourism offer and industrial offer would give the people of Southbank, Redcar and the Tees Valley more opportunities which is what is so badly needed right now.
“The mayor is playing politics and misleading the public saying the furnace is too expensive to keep, the truth is he has no idea how much it would cost because he never did the feasibility study.
“The steelworks site is huge, the size of Gibraltar; it has room for both significant industrial redevelopment and retention of the Blast furnace, Coke Oven battery and Dorman Long tower which you can see in the map, have a tiny footprint in comparison. Keeping these structures were part of the original master plan from the very beginning.”
Mr Houchen denied that no feasibility study had been done, saying Primetals, the company which built the blast furnace, had produced a report, which was currently being updated.
Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen
A spokesman said the report would be published when updated to reflect the current state of the structure.
He added retaining it would impact on Net Zero Teesside, which will make use of the site’s existing underground infrastructure.
Mr Houchen said: “The cost of keeping the blast furnace will be in excess of £33million. We are in the process of getting an updated final report completed from the company that built the blast furnace in 1979, so there is nobody better to tell us about the exact costs and challenges we face in keeping this extremely dangerous structure which is cordoned off to stop injuries occurring due to its unsafe conditions which will only further deteriorate with time.
“My Labour opponent’s comment that the location of the blast furnace will not impact future development shows she has no understanding of the site and how it works. With British Steel, Wilton and Redcar Bulk Terminal all forming part of the site, it is impossible to turn it into a tourist attraction. If she was serious about marking the heritage of iron and steelmaking she would back a realistic proposal rather than trying to score cheap political points.
“Net Zero Teesside is located on a specific part of the site right next to the blast furnace to make use of existing underground infrastructure, so keeping the blast furnace would impact on Net Zero’s plans. This is clearly evidenced in their planning documents that are publicly available.
“This also shows that not only would Labour’s plans stop us creating thousands of jobs, they would stop us creating the good quality, high skilled, clean, 21st century jobs that will put this region at the forefront of UK clean growth, and all of our hard work to make us a trail blazer in the industries of the future would be undone.
“A recent survey of more than 1,000 people showed 70 per cent of people wanted to demolish the blast furnace. The overwhelming majority of feedback I have had from former steelworkers to people living in Redcar is they want us to look to the future and move on.
“They understand the complexities and potential of the site and want us to bring in investment and create thousands of jobs on the site for the people of Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool, which are more important than ever before. Unlike my opponent, I am listening to the people I represent and acting accordingly.
Geoff Taylor, chair of Save Our Steel Heritage called on the Tees Valley Combined Authority to pause demolition and carry out a feasibility study into the cost of preserving the structures.
He said: “We can’t let politics get in the way of progress. We are proud of our past and have faith in our future.
“There is a strong case for both industrial heritage and industrial development and we won’t let anyone steal our steel heritage.”