September 3, 2020
Hugged by coiling streaks of purple and gold, Redcar’s vertical pier, at first glance, looks like a giant fairground helter-skelter slide. The centrepiece of a multi-million-pound scheme to revitalise the town’s esplanade, the pier – or Redcar Beacon to use its official title – is a flash of modernity amid the seaside tradition of amusement arcades and ice cream parlours.
Climb its spiral staircase and a viewing platform affords visitors a panoramic outlook.
Glance one way and the fun and colour of day-trippers juxtaposes with the regimented, brown-tiled roofs of terraced streets. Scan another, and ships sail across the horizon, ferrying goods to and from Teesport.
Squint a little further along the coastline and something else looms into view; Redcar’s vast steelworks site.
Latterly operated by SSI UK, it has stood dormant since 2015 when the Thai operator’s steelmaking dream collapsed into liquidation.
The base, however, is about to be re-awoken.
Under the guidance of Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen, the 4500-acre estate is being transformed into a huge commercial hub. Renamed Teesworks – and carrying the strapline of the UK’s largest industrial zone – Mayor Houchen says the venture has the potential to create 20,000 new jobs.
If the Redcar Beacon is representative of some cosmetic treatment to revive the town’s fortunes as a coastal hotspot, Teesworks is major surgical intervention for its future economic success.
After battling with SSI and Thai banks to relinquish their hold on hundreds of acres of land, Mayor Houchen was equally successful in acquiring a compulsory purchase order that gave his South Tees Development Corporation the keys to the steelworks and another 112 acres.
Such triumphs mean work has been able to start in earnest on site, with local contractors remediating ground to seed new growth.
Plans have been submitted for a 4.5 million sq ft manufacturing hub, which is earmarked to create 9000 permanent jobs, and a further 200 acres have been set aside for Net Zero Teesside.
A carbon capture and storage project, led by the BP, ENI, Equinor, Shell and Total consortium, Net Zero Teesside will be, says Mayor Houchen, a “world-first”.
Championed for its potential to create the UK’s first zero-carbon industrial cluster, the scheme aims to remove up to ten million tonnes of carbon dioxide from Tees Valley’s skyline before storing it underground.
To help make this happen, a £150million, five- year programme – to demolish structures that include the site’s iconic blast furnace and coke ovens – has been unveiled.
The work, announced in mid-August, is expected to support up to 300 jobs and could begin as early as March next year.
For the man at the helm, it all represents a welcome point in the journey to take Teesworks from map to materiality.
“This has all been bottled up for the last two- and-a-half years,” says Mayor Houchen, referring to the drawn-out acquisition of land on the former steel base.
“They were frustrating periods because of the complexities of the site and how SSI and the banks dug their heels in.
“But we always set out to make Teesworks an international site and I’m very pleased we’re able to do that now.”
According to the Mayor’s plans, nearly 20 additional contracts to further prepare the site for its second coming will be tendered over the next few months, in the process supporting the local employment landscape.
“We’d already created 208 jobs on the site by the time we launched Teesworks, and the new contracts will take the figure to 390 over the next 12 months,” says Mayor Houchen.
“However, they will end up creating 760 posts as they ramp up.
“Contracts have already gone to County Durham’s Hall Construction, Hartlepool’s Seymour Civil Engineering and Redcar’s CW Russell, and we are just about to confirm another local company for the clean-up of some big tanks before they are demolished.
“I want local jobs for local people,” he continues. “I spoke to one lad on site recently who had been recruited the week before.
“He was from Grangetown – so can literally walk to work – but had previously been all over the country for employment.
“This is a Godsend for him, and I want more stories like his.”
While looking to the future, however, Mayor Houchen is also keeping an eye on the past, with site tours arranged to take place before the bulldozers fully move in.
Such is demand, though, that an initial 250 places sold out in 35 minutes, with a further 1000 snapped up in six hours.
As North East Times went to print, hundreds more spaces had been reserved.
“A lot of people who have signed up worked on the site, or have parents or grandparents that did,” says Mayor Houchen, who has appealed to former employees and local residents for ways to recognise the steelworks’ place in Tees Valley history.
“To them, it is a part of their family; it is a bittersweet moment, but they appreciate we need to look to the future.”
If Teesworks is to fulfil its potential it will, says Mayor Houchen, be partly attributable to the new transport links at Teesside International Airport.
After returning the hub to public ownership, Mayor Houchen has overseen a number of fresh carrier agreements, which include the return of a Heathrow service.
“We have two absolutely unique pieces of infrastructure that are right next to each other,” he says.
“They are the drivers that will change the future of the Tees Valley economy; you cannot have one without the other.
“Look at Jebel Ali in the United Arab Emirates – it is a port that is intrinsically linked to the airport.
“Investors don’t want to fly to Manchester and then spend two-and-a-half hours travelling over the Pennines.
“International investors come through an airport terminal – they don’t arrive on a bus.”