THE future of Teesside steelmaking could be decided in the next 24 hours.

Redcar’s Coke Ovens will burn until at least the weekend, after more coal was bought to keep Teesside’s industrial flames alight.

However, the site’s official receiver is expected to make a decision tomorrow (Friday, October 8) on whether to buy more fuel to keep the ovens ablaze after the weekend.

If it doesn’t, and elects to let the 162 ovens burn out, it could spell the end for the entire works, with their ongoing survival maintaining hopes hundreds of jobs can be saved.

Upon making the coal announcement, the Government’s Insolvency Service said the site’s official receiver is still talking to interested parties about the plant’s future.

A spokesman added workers, believed to be about 650 people, are also still being employed to maintain the coke ovens.

The ovens’ extension was also made at the same time the Government’s Redundancy Payments Service (RPS) hinted steelworkers workers could be handed a pay lifeline.

More than 1,000 people have been laid off, and the RPS says it has issued letters informing people of ways to make a claim for redundancy cash.

The spokesman said: “A decision has been made to buy sufficient coal to keep the coke ovens going until the weekend, enabling the official receiver to continue discussions with interested parties about purchasing assets in working order.

“A decision about buying further coal to keep the ovens operational beyond the weekend will be taken at the end of this week.”

Bosses at County Durham coal firm Hargreaves Services have held talks several times with the receiver, who was appointed after SSI UK was liquidated, but The Northern Echo understands the company has no desire to take ownership of the ovens, the steelworks or manage the site.

The Esh Winning business has offered to continue managing the movement of coal and coke, but the receiver is responsible for what happens next.

If the receiver doesn’t want to run a sale, and current market conditions would make it very difficult to find a buyer, it will probably result in the death of steelmaking on Teesside.

The Redcar ovens, which workers say have at least 25 years of life left in them, are capable of producing a million tonnes of coke a year, which costs about $100m per annum in fuel alone to run.

If the receiver decides to keep the ovens going, even in their loss-making state, it would suggest they have a long-term plan to market the site as a combined blast furnace and coke battery operation.

They could also choose to let the coke ovens collapse, putting them permanently out of action, and try to sell the blast furnace on its own, but that would limit its appeal to potential owners.