A HERITAGE taskforce has said it is “unlikely” to recommend preserving the blast furnace on Teesside’s former steelworks.
Redcar MP Jacob Young made the comment last night, following the publication of a report by Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen, which said retaining the blast furnace as a tourist attraction and adding a visitor centre would cost more than £25m with annual running costs of £982,800 to keep the structure safe.
Mr Young, who is chairman of the Teesworks Heritage Taskforce, said: “This report and the accompanying economic analysis will help to guide the taskforce’s thinking on the blast furnace and the wider issue of the heritage of iron and steelmaking in Teesside.
“The taskforce has unanimously agreed that it is clear that the impact on local jobs that retaining the blast furnace would cause means that we are very unlikely to recommend the preservation of this particular structure – however the taskforce is still looking at options surrounding the Dorman Long Tower.
“I know many people have strong opinions on this issue, and if money and jobs were no issue I’m sure there would be strong arguments to retain it, but in the current circumstances it would be irresponsible not to put our future economic prospects first.
“Many people have already inputted to the website consultation process, and the responses so far have had some great feedback about the things people want to see.
“We’ll be embarking on the next phase of our community consultation soon and we’re looking forward to hearing more great ideas on how to mark this hugely significant part of our heritage.
“More broadly this report and the decision of the taskforce, now allows us to look beyond the blast furnace, at other exciting plans and find the right way to commemorate the industry that built our region – and the world.”
Last night, Labour’s Jessie Joe Jacobs, who is the mayoral candidate and a member of the Save our Steel Heritage Group, said the report was misleading and there were other ways the furnace could be retained for tourism.
Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen and Labour’s Jessie Joe Jacobs disagree over what should happen to Redcar’s blast furnace
The analysis assumed only six jobs would be created through incorporating a visitor centre, although this was said to be a conservative figure.
In contrast by demolishing the structure and developing the 20 acre site on which it stands could potentially create 827 direct and indirect jobs, adding £161m to the Tees Valley economy over the next ten years.
It said the Teesworks Task Force, which is considering ways to preserve the history and heritage of the former iron and steelworks site, “may wish to request a business case to consider different heritage-based offerings”.
The report by Primetal, which built the blast furnace, said: “At present the blast furnace complex is in an extremely dangerous condition and is unsuitable for allowing access to the public.
“The current condition of the furnace poses a risk for the trained and competent structural inspectors and it is proving evermore challenging to inspect for defects and monitor known defects within the structures.
“The overall stability of the blast furnace complex shall only worsen without intervention.”
It suggested that the creation of a visitor centre, which could be built along with a viewing platform allowing people to view the blast furnace complex, could cost £2.6m.
While the financial figures produced by Mr Houchen stack up against keeping the blast furnace, a growing band of steel workers, academics, engineers, artists, musicians, historians and community leaders from across the Tees Valley and beyond have joined a campaign to save it from being razed.
Peter Hewitt, a Middlesbrough-born former chief executive of the Arts Council, previously said its demolition would “rip the heart out of Teesside”.
Meanwhile, a masterplan previously published for the Redcar site described the blast furnace as an “impressive example of industrial architecture at its best” and said it could be preserved as a major landmark and visitor attraction, augmented by the introduction of night-time lighting.
Mr Houchen has also said that keeping the blast furnace and developing it as a tourist attraction would prevent the development of the proposed Net Zero carbon capture facility which is planned for land adjacent to the furnace, although campaigners disagree.
A statement on behalf of the companies Net Zero Teesside Power Ltd and Net Zero North Sea Storage Ltd provided earlier this year to a public consultation over the project said only ancillary structures and conveyors associated with the blast furnace would be physically impacted by the carbon capture facility – suggesting the two could exist alongside each other.
It said: “The blast furnace is a well-preserved and relatively rare example of its type and is assessed to be of medium value.
“The value of the asset derives from its historical interest, contribution to local identity, rarity, and preservation level.
“It is assumed that there would be no physical impacts to the blast furnace arising from the construction of the proposed development.”
A spokesman for Net Zero Teesside said: “Any plans for future use of these structures would be required to go through the usual consultation processes and any impact on our project – to decarbonise the industrial cluster – and the substantial jobs this will deliver would have to be taken into account when deciding whether any such plans are practical.”
He said developing the blast furnace site into a tourist attraction could create potential issues such as the enforcement of site safety standards and issues around parking and such a proposal would be “challenging for any developer to deliver”.
Mr Houchen said: “This independent report which has been produced for the Teesworks Heritage Task Force confirms what I have always feared – keeping the blast furnace would result in astronomical costs, and most importantly, would harm our plans to create local jobs for local people on the site.
“A development that will cost jobs on this site is the last thing the communities across Redcar want, especially at this time as we deal with the coronavirus pandemic.
“The findings clearly reveal 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.”
He added: “As an elected mayor, I will always strive to do what the people I represent want me to do.
“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.
“I absolutely agree that we should find ways to recognise and celebrate our heritage, but an approach that would cost 827 jobs and hundreds of millions of pounds of investment is not the answer.”
Ms Jacobs, Labour’s candidate for Tees Valley Mayor, said: “This whole report confirms my worst fears – namely that the mayor does not understand the basics in creating jobs for everyone and driving forward both a tourist and industrial economy for Redcar.
“I would never put the jobs and prosperity of the people of Teesside on the line.
“Bringing jobs and hope to the Tees region is everything to me, it’s why I am in politics.
“We need jobs for all our people and tourism is part of the answer, alongside the redevelopment of the South Tees site, creating jobs of the future.”
Ms Jacobs added: “This misleading report has been based on keeping the whole blast furnace site and adding a visitor centre that the public can access.
“This is not the only way to use the furnace to bring tourism.
“Estimates I have been given state not demolishing it would be actually cheaper than the cost of demolition.
“Leading figures in culture, heritage and even the chemical industry have all stated that using the blast furnace as a living sculpture similar to projects around the world would create an international buzz about Redcar, putting us on the map for tourism and investment.”