FORMER Labour MP Anna Turley last night described the process to transform the old SSI Redcar steelworks plant as “totally clandestine”, and slammed what she said was a lack of scrutiny over future of the site.

Ms Turley, who was ousted as Redcar MP by Tory Jacob Young in last December’s General Election, also referred to there being “more press releases than jobs” in respect of long running plans for the area.

Ms Turley, who played a prominent part in the Save our Steel campaign that fought unsuccessfully to keep the steel plant open, has remained largely out of the political limelight since her defeat ended a four-year spell representing Redcar in Parliament.

But in an interview with the Local Democracy Reporting Service the 41-year-old spelt out her frustrations, including how she believed the South Tees Development Corporation (STDC) – the organisation tasked with implementing a master plan aimed at creating 20,000 jobs on 4,500 acres of land to the south of the River Tees – was not transparent or sufficiently accountable.

Her criticisms have been rejected by Conservative Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen, who said STDC "is completely accountable, it is a public organisation handling public funds".

Ms Turley said the recent appointment of Mr Young to the STDC board for the next 12 months was “convenient” and “political” when she had previously been foiled in her efforts to join it in the early days of its inception.

The former MP also described the vitriol she faced during her tenure in the Redcar seat, being accused of talking down Teesside when she sought answers to questions about the steel site.

“I found it really difficult to find out what was happening, I was having to rely on informal things from board members, but they were all very nervous about talking to me because the pressure was on them in terms of commercial sensitivity," said Ms Turley.

“At the beginning the chief executive [of the development corporation] would talk to me in an official capacity, but then it became really political.

“My letters did not get replied to, I was treated as an irritant. If I dared to ask questions about why things were going slowly I would see replies in the press attacking me, or told we can’t discuss that with you.

“There is so little scrutiny of what is happening on that site now, it is totally clandestine.

“The lack of democracy, the lack of oversight, the lack of transparency, over something which will have a huge impact on the town, jobs, and people’s lives really is a concern. 

“I felt I had played a constructive role on the taskforce [set up after the steelworks closed], but from the moment it became a mayoral development corporation I was completely blocked out of it.”

On job creation, Ms Turley said: “It is five years now [since the Redcar steel plant closed], a huge amount of taxpayers’ money has gone in and I am not aware a single job has been created on that site yet.

“It is very slow progress. I used to joke that there were more press releases than jobs created about projects that sometimes they come, sometimes they don’t and within a year they disappear off the radar."

The Local Democracy Reporting Service approached the Tees Valley Combined Authority, which oversees the governance of the South Tees Development Corporation and received this response from Mayor Ben Houchen.

“Anna [Turley] was not on the board when it was first set up in its shadow form. When I was elected I had to propose a board in August 2017 – when it was officially set up – and that was the same board that had already been chosen because we wanted continuity.

“That included Sue Jeffrey [former Redcar and Cleveland Council leader] and Dave Budd [ex Middlesbrough Council elected mayor], who were allowed on and were both prominent local Labour politicians.

“Anna or anyone else never got in touch with me or my office to become a board member of the development corporation.

“The appointments were for three years so the next time from a process point of view that we could review the membership of the development corporation board was May 2020, six months after Anna lost.

“At my first opportunity I put the local MP [Jacob Young] on the board – why would you not have the local MP on the board, no matter who it is or their political persuasion?

“It is the most important project for decades in that constituency.

“Anna had monthly briefings with the development corporation in the diary for a Friday which were led by the chief executive and she never attended any of them.

“To suggest she was frozen out in any way is just absurd.

“Anna never really understood the development corporation or engaged with it.

“It is a public body, its meetings are held in public and the minutes are published on its website.

“It is completely accountable, it is a public organisation handling public funds.

“In terms of the site, progress has not been slow in the sense that we have done everything as quickly as we possibly can.

“The thing that will now help us accelerate the more publicly visible side of the development corporation is the deal we did with the Thai banks and winning the Compulsory Order (CPO)."