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SPEECHLESS: Campaigner’s sadness as Dorman Long tower delisted

SPEECHLESS: Campaigner’s sadness as Dorman Long tower delisted

A recent photo of the Dorman Long tower, Image: Alastair Smith

A campaigner who saw his effort to list the Dorman Long tower rescinded on appeal has shared his shock and sadness at the decision.

Hospital worker Nick Taylor said he was “speechless” after an appeal by Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen saw the coal tower stripped of its Grade II status on Thursday.

Mr Taylor successfully lodged an application with Heritage England to help safeguard the 1950s structure from impending demolition at the Teesworks site.

But new culture secretary Nadine Dorries agreed with calls to de-list the structure yesterday after the mayor and the South Tees Development Corporation asked for it to be overturned.

Charities and campaigners had argued the tower was a monument to Teesside’s industrial past – with hopes it could have become a heritage attraction – in line with previous South Tees Development Corporation visions.

Mr Taylor said he was deflated at the decision to overturn the listing.

“It is what it is – all we can say is we’ve tried our best with it,” he added.

“I don’t think there is much more we can do now.

“We tried to save it – I’m deflated about the whole situation. The campaigners have done their best. I’d just like to thank everyone for their efforts.”

General Electric wind turbine plans are taking shape on land near the 180ft tower.

Teesworks leaders have pointed to a report by engineers Atkins to back up their demolition argument.

Officials say this showed “ongoing and irreversible” damage to the structure meant it could cost between £7m and £9m to secure and maintain – with concrete cracking, and “general age-related wear and tear”.

Mr Houchen said the appeal to overturn the listing was lodged last Sunday – claiming it would have cost the taxpayer more than £9m if the status stood and thousands of jobs.

He also hit out at campaigners.

The Conservative mayor added: “Our heritage does not lie in a rotting coal bunker, our heritage lies in the people that built this great region.

“It lies in the structures that stand tall across the world, from The Shard, Sydney Harbour Bridge and One World Trade Centre.

“That is our heritage, and to try to keep a structure that’s been left to wrack and ruin and that cannot be saved, delaying and putting at risk thousands of jobs we’re trying to create for local people, is utterly ridiculous.”

“Unfair to have a pop”

Mr Taylor said campaigners would have sorely loved to have seen the building kept for future generations.

He added: “We were looking at plans where the cost implications would not be on the taxpayer – it would be funding through the Heritage Lottery fund and other ways to save it.

“The combined authority and Teesworks have a bigger idea of the area which is fine.

“I’m all for jobs – I’m not against that and it does need regeneration.

“But given it’s one small area of a vast piece of land it would have been nice for the structure to be kept.”

The campaigner was irked by TVCA officials saying the listing episode had cost the taxpayer £40,000 to £50,000.

“Anybody could have put it in,” added Mr Taylor.

“It’s an open forum to do that – why should people be penalised for trying to save something at the heart of Teesside?

“I think it’s a bit of an unfair pop at us about that – anyone can do a listing, it’s not just campaigners like ourselves.”

Mr Taylor also claimed leaders had “gone against their word” given past versions of the South Tees Development Corporation masterplan.

The 2019 document stated the “landmark structure” could have been retained and adapted as a viewing platform, climbing wall, or integrated into the heritage trail given it was near the Teesdale Way.

Last week, Mr Houchen said it had always been the plan to keep the tower but the numbers had to stack up.

He added: “Disappointingly, this (engineers’) 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

Uncertainty over demolition timing

Meanwhile, uncertainty now surrounds when the demolition of the tower will take place.

Officials had planned to bring it down in the early hours of Sunday morning before the listing saga unfolded.

Timescales were adjusted to the “coming weeks” after the Grade II status was overturned.

However, the Local Democracy Reporting Service understands demolition teams are  working around the clock to prepare the tower for razing this weekend to fit with a night-time railway closure and the demolition of three other structures.

Reasons given for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) overturning the listing were revealed in a letter signed by Ms Dorries.

The loss of a “significant proportion of the original fabric” – including material lost in preparation for the total demolition – was cited as hitting its architectural interest.

Substantial original fabric and machinery inside the structure also counted against its listing.

The letter went on to state the building was “essentially a functional structure”.

It added: “The building’s form and use of concrete is considered to be more likely out of engineering and functional requirement, than being a good and early example of Brutalist design, where a more sophisticated and refined use of forms and materials might be expected.

“As a coal handling structure, the Dorman Long tower is not particularly emblematic of the regional steel industry, although it is acknowledged it does retain a degree of significance as a local landmark.”

A DCMS spokesperson added: “After carefully reviewing the new evidence presented to the Secretary of State since the initial listing on Friday, she has decided to delist the Dorman Long tower.

“The decision is based on further evidence which, in the Secretary of State’s view, highlighted that the building is not of the required special architectural or historic interest to remain listed.”

“Deeply frustrating situation”

Historic England said the building did merit Grade II listing.

A spokesperson added: “Our site visit highlighted the prior loss of much of the historic coking plant, as well as the likely costs and ongoing safety risks of keeping the surviving tower.

“We recognise the importance of the public benefits that will come from the remediation and planned regeneration of the whole Teesworks site.

“We also accept, with regret, that demolition of the tower is now likely to proceed but we are keen to continue supporting local partners as works progress.”

Catherine Croft, director of the 20th Century Society, said the decision to delist and the building’s impending demolition was a “real pity”.

“Making decisions at the last minute is not much good for anybody,” she added.

“What we need are a lot more resources into these things up front so we can make much better and informed decisions about what we keep, and how we integrate it into new schemes.”

Ms Croft said funding would allow thorough research and comparative studies to be carried out earlier.

“It does seem an incredible pity and a deeply frustrating situation,” she added.

Teesville councillor Vincent Smith set up a petition to save the Dorman Long tower which has attracted more than 1,400 signatures.

He believed political pressure had been applied behind closed doors – claiming there had been “a lot of smoke and mirrors” throughout the demolition process.

Cllr Smith added: “They keep on saying how it’s going to cost jobs at the wind farm but the wind farm is about 200 yards away.

“There is plenty of other space around them if they want to expand – they don’t need the space where the tower is.”


Words: Alex Metcalfe, Local Democracy Reporter

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