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LOCAL AUTHORITY: Council ‘could be sued’ if Dorman Long tower demolition is delayed

LOCAL AUTHORITY: Council ‘could be sued’ if Dorman Long tower demolition is delayed

A recent photo of the Dorman Long tower, Image: LDRS

Redcar and Cleveland Council leader Mary Lanigan has suggested it could have been sued had the local authority stood in the way of plans to demolish the Dorman Long tower.

Council planning chiefs confirmed prior approval for the demolition was not needed, paving the way for the landmark former coal tower to come down.

Campaigners had wanted the council to serve a building preservation notice on the 1950s built tower which could have delayed demolition for six months and allowed more time for a listed status application being brought forward by a local preservation group to be considered by Historic England.

But this was rejected by Cllr Lanigan, who said: “If we did what [some] are asking us to do,  and that failed, the South Tees Development Corporation could sue this council because of the delay.”

The Tees Valley Combined Authority (TVCA) said an independent report by engineers Atkins revealed “ongoing and irreversible” damage to the structure and it could cost between £7m and £9m to secure and maintain, and even then it would still have to be demolished in the next two decades.

Councillor Vincent Smith, who represents the nearby Teesville ward and launched a petition to save the Dorman Long Tower, said: “The Dorman Long tower is an historic landmark and a much loved manifestation of our steel heritage and is specifically recognised in [the council’s] Local Plan policy.

“Sadly it seems this important building will be demolished, without planning permission and without any consultation or discussion with local people.”

Cllr Smith said the number of signatures on petitions set up online in protest at the plans “showed the strength of public feeling”.

He added: “This survey that has been carried out has been carried out on behalf of people who want to demolish the tower.

“They want to get rid of something and they come up with astronomical figures concerning faults and maintenance, and they usually get their way.”

He later told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) that Historic England, a non-departmental body of the Government, which champions historic places, had in fact listed the tower, although the LDRS could not immediately verify this.

Speaking at a meeting of the borough council, Cllr Lanigan said: “We cannot even at this moment in time get scaffolding onto it [the tower] because it is so dangerous, it is totally unstable and there are massive safety aspects.

“The bottom part of the tower has fallen away and the top above where it says ‘Dorman Long’ is crumbling and we can’t get people anywhere around it.

“Because the building is structurally unsound, the council as the local planning authority can only consider the method of demolition on the site.

“I’m sorry, I realise this is an emotive issue, but with the information I have got I cannot intervene.

“The tower has no protection under planning and that is why it is not going to [our] planning committee.”

The Dorman Long tower is adjacent to the South Bank coke oven battery on the former Redcar steelworks site – now called Teesworks – with the coke ovens making way for a new wind turbine manufacturing facility being built by LM Wind, a subsidiary of GE renewable energy.

Cllr Lanigan said the Dorman Long tower would be on the corner of the manufacturing plant if left, adding: “The GE plans are well advanced and I wonder why after all these years of that tower being sat there, nobody has come forward [to save it].

“This has been left to the 11th hour.”

She went on: “A lot of people have contacted me and said ‘Mary it [the tower] needs to come down’.

“This is about progress, moving forward and about jobs for our young people.

“It isn’t something that will be knocked down and left for the next five or six years, that land is needed.”

TVCA said Atkins had found, since being decommissioned in the 1970s, concrete carbonation had caused the embedded steel reinforcements in the tower to corrode, which had resulted in significant cracking and weakening of the concrete, with general age-related wear-and-tear also taking its toll.

It said demolition costs could also double or triple later down the line due to new developments and structures being built in the vicinity.

TVCA, which has received a request from the LDRS to release the Atkins report, expects to give more details next week about the demolition and its timescale, which could be in a matter of weeks.

While the future of the Dorman Long tower has been under consideration, it was never on a list of nine primary assets set to be demolished on the Teesworks site, which is under the control of the development corporation.#

Ben Houchen

Ben Houchen pictured in front of the blast furnace on the Teesworks site, Image: LDRS

Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen said it had “always been the plan” to keep the tower as a symbol of the area’s iron and steelmaking heritage, but the “numbers had to stack up”.

He said: “Disappointingly, this report shows that all we would achieve by doing this is burdening the taxpayer with costs for something that would have to come down – at a higher cost – in just a few short years anyway, because of the irreversible damage it sustained due to it being left to wrack and ruin.

“We have to be realistic and we can’t put the jobs of tomorrow at risk.

“Our investment needs to be directed towards securing these good-quality, well-paid jobs that are committed to the site now, and those that will follow.”

Mr Houchen said the development corporation boardhad agreed to the “difficult decision” and a Teesworks heritage taskforce he previously set up would also be attempting to determine what could be salvaged after the demolition.

Kate Willard, co-chair of the taskforce, said: “The iconic cultural significance of this structure and its status as a regional landmark means that there’s a strong sentimental connection felt by individuals and communities across the region.

“We’d like to see thought given to how the tower might be remembered and celebrated, perhaps with a version of its iconic lettering installed elsewhere on-site, or with a model of the tower itself.

“The identified costs in the report to maintain the tower were high.

“We would hope that consideration is given as to how some of these potential savings might help with the preservation and display of other artefacts saved from the Teesworks site.

“This way, we can help secure to archive, artefacts and memories of the Redcar steelworks alive for generations.”

The 56-feet high Dorman Long tower was used to store coal which was fed along a conveyor belt into the coke ovens which fuelled the blast furnace at the former steelworks in order to make steel.

Some on social media have suggested the tower could be retained and incorporated into a more modern structure or facility, drawing parallels with the Baltic flour mill in Gateshead which was incorporated into the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art.

Objections to the demolition have come from the C20 Society, which campaigns to preserve notable 20th century architecture and design.

It said: “This 1950s tower is an important local landmark and monument to Teesside’s industrial past and should not be destroyed.”

Nick Taylor, from the Dorman Long building preservation group, said that Dorman Long, which constructed the Sydney Harbour Bridge, was a “titanic name” that resonated around the world and the Dorman Long tower one of its key structures.

Meanwhile, responding to the latest announcement, former Redcar MP Anna Turley wrote on Twitter: “Wow. So that’s it.

“Ben Houchen’s Teesworks will be demolishing the historic Dorman Long tower and losing one of the last iconic industrial landmarks on Teesside.

“No route for Redcar and Cleveland council to appeal.”

The fate of the tower mirrors that of the Redcar blast furnace with Mr Houchen’s combined authority previously commissioning an inspection report which said it was unsafe and would cost upwards of £35m to preserve.

Mayor Mr Houchen also claimed by retaining the structure it would block potentially thousands of jobs.

But the Save our Steel Heritage group said the costs put into the public domain were misleading and inaccurate.

It said the research was “flawed” and there had been a “whitewash”.

Campaigners had hoped to retain the core or “heart” of the furnace so it could be illuminated at night and be seen from miles around.

Work began last month on the first stage of dismantling the blast furnace with Mayor Houchen having pledged in June that all major steelmaking structures at Teesworks would come down within a year.


Words: Stuart Arnold, Local Democracy Reporter

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