Five years on from the closure of the SSI steel site, Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen discusses how regeneration work is progressing.

EARLIER this month, I marked the five-year anniversary of the liquidation of the SSI steelworks by demolishing its former gatehouse - paving the way for a brand-new, state-of-the-art entrance that will wow local people and international investors.

I also caught up with some of the 500-plus workers we already have on the Teesworks site, from former steelworkers delighted to be back home earning good money again for their families, to young apprentices starting out on their road to a long and successful career. It was clear they were thrilled to be working on the site and there was a real sense of optimism for the future.

But on the same day five years before, Redcar Gate was a very different place and there could not have been a greater contrast in the mood.

The pain, job losses and economic impact from the closure of the steelworks ripped the heart out of communities. The heart-breaking image of one worker leaving his boots and hard hat by the site summed up the devastation that it had caused.

When I was elected in May 2017, I was determined to not let this image of heartache and anguish be the lasting memory for people in Redcar and across Teesside. Only weeks after being elected I sat down face-to-face with the three Thai banks to start negotiations to bring the site back into local ownership once again.

After three years of hard work, negotiations and plenty of late nights with little or no sleep, in February this year we reached a deal with SSI to take back control of the steelworks, allowing us to get on with attracting the huge investment and creating the thousands of jobs for local workers that this site has the potential to create.

I’ve always said redeveloping our former steelworks wouldn’t happen overnight – but that doesn’t mean things are not happening. In the last few months we’ve created 517 local jobs, but this is just the beginning. Over the next year, we will go on to create hundreds more real jobs for real people in our communities.

The jobs we have created are local people and local contractors helping us transform the site for the benefit of everyone. Hartlepool-based Seymour Civil Engineering, Redcar-based CW Russell, who are located just yards away from the site, Middlesbrough based Acumen and Darlington-based Hall Construction are just the first of the growing list of local companies that are winning contracts and helping redevelop our former steelworks.

We’ve already announced some huge projects that will create thousands of jobs once the land preparation work is complete. We’ve already announced plans for 4.5million sq ft of state-of-the-art manufacturing space that will be perfect for offshore wind and could create 9,000 jobs, and this will be just a stone’s throw away from Net Zero Teesside, which is also creating thousands of new, clean jobs. But this is just a fraction of the land and the opportunities that are available.

It is also critical that we ensure local workers have the skills needed to take advantage of these opportunities. That’s why I’m setting up a Teesworks Skills Academy to train people so they have the expertise needed for the jobs we are creating.

As we mark five years on from those dark days in 2015, the only local people I want to see at the Teesworks entrance now are people full of excitement ready to take advantage of all the good jobs we’re creating on the site.

We must never forget who we are doing this for – the people of Teesside whose lives were torn apart when SSI closed. The hundreds of jobs we are creating and the investment we are bringing in will help us change the skyline of Teesside forever.

This is a site with a proud history and one which has touched the lives of so many people, and we can make it a site that everyone in Teesside is proud of again.