A Danish steel contractor is bringing a mothballed factory back to life by creating a hub for the manufacture of wind turbine parts. Deputy Business Editor Steven Hugill reports

JAN KJÆRSGAARD looks out of the window, taking a thoughtful pause.

Outside, the weather is cool and grey, with mist hanging heavy in the air.

Mr Kjærsgaard is looking for a way to describe plans that will help galvanise a Teesside industrial site, and the conditions are providing the perfect backdrop.

He is sitting in an office at the former Tag Energy Solutions’ site, in Haverton Hill, near Billingham.

The factory was mothballed last year when Tag, once hailed as a jewel in the region’s renewable energy crown, was crippled by a sharp fall in work.

Staff were laid off and the plant’s future thrown into doubt.

Just like the prevailing weather, the site – which was once to become a humming business base – is in need of a little rejuvenation.

UPON my arrival, the car park is speckled with vehicles, wire fencing blocks access to some areas and an unmanned reception desk holds a small book to track visitors’ movements.

The Northern Echo:
BOSSES: JAN Kjærsgaard, left, with Ray Taviner. Picture: DAVID WOOD

At the entrance, security guards, huddled in a small grey cabin, watch over the factory, recording details of who is coming and going, raising and lowering a red and white barrier.

A little brightness would lift the mood.

That’s where Mr Kjærsgaard comes in.

He is chief executive of Bladt Industries, a market-leading steel contractor known for its work across a number of energy sectors, including wind and renewable power. The Danish firm is working with German steel company EEW Special Pipe Constructions to transform Tag’s former factory into a UK hub for wind turbine parts.

Their joint venture, known as Offshore Structures (Britain) Limited (OSB), is ploughing about £30m into the plant, and has already secured a deal with Dong Energy to make components for the Burbo Bank Extension offshore wind farm, in Liverpool Bay.

OSB will make transition pieces for turbines on Teesside.

Bright yellow structures rising from the water’s surface atop monopiles, the transitions include platforms and boat landing areas, and house cabling allowing workers to maintain the smooth running of the giant energy-producing systems.

OSB also wants to take on North-East workers.

A small team of 19 staff are on site but, once welding machinery and other high-tech equipment is fitted by June this year, full production is expected to begin in September.

Bosses hope that will see the number of people at the factory rise to more than 100, and eventually hit the 300 mark.

So, where the plant’s future may once have seemed gloomy, it now has a sunnier outlook.

Speaking to The Northern Echo during a brief visit to England, Mr Kjærsgaard said the Tag site was essential if OSB wanted to be successful in the UK energy sector.

He said: “We are clearing out the manufacturing site at the moment to refurbish it and get it ready for work. The things that we will be making will be on a very large scale, so we have to get the right equipment in to allow us to carry out the projects.

The Northern Echo:

“We are also doing a lot of work on our paint facility.

“We are on a glide path; we are preparing the site and will be getting more people in as we go on.

“The workforce will rise, but it depends on orders and we will fight to win them.

“There will be opportunities, that is the nature of the business.

“If they come in, we may more or less double our capacity from the Burbo work and have about 300 people.”

Bladt’s headquarters are based in Aalborg, in the north of Denmark, with EEW operating out of Rostock, in the north of Germany.

The Danish company makes foundations and substations for offshore projects, as well as topsides and jackets for oil and gas projects, with EEW supplying large pipework.

Mr Kjærsgaard said the duo had worked together on a number of previous projects, including work to make foundations and transitions for the London Array offshore wind farm, which experts say powers about 500,000 homes.

The Northern Echo:
WORK: Bladt and EEW provided structures for the London Array project. Pictured are transition pieces, which include platforms, for workers to maintain the turbines

So what convinced bosses to look to the North-East of England?

“It is important for us to have harbour access,” said Mr Kjærsgaard.

“You cannot move these components around easily because of their size and the fact they are very large and complicated.

“We want to be experts in those here, and to do that you need the right facilities, which Teesside offers.

“The factory has been running before and had a good base of staff, which we can look at getting in from the local area.

“We have worked together with EEW on many programmes, and this will allow us to continue that.

“Together, we have helped deliver more than half of the farms that are out on the waters in northern Europe.

“There are going to be some big projects here in the coming years.

“We see the UK as one of the core markets in the European offshore wind sector going forward, and being based in the country was the right thing for us to do.

“We had a lot of options as we looked to get into the UK markets, but we found the North-East and the Tag site to be the best one.

“We can hit the ground running here.

“As a company, we do not engage in something unless we believe in it.”

TAG delivered foundation poles for the Humber Gateway offshore wind farm, in East Yorkshire, but its base was mothballed when the company was put up for sale after its order book thinned.

It had hoped to employ 400 workers, and was backed by £3m grants from the Department for Energy and Climate Change and regional development agency One North East.

However, after work fell, creditors called in loans and staff were paid off.

When OSB announced its UK venture to restore the site, immediate questions were raised about what it would do, and just what kind of impact it would have on the region’s employment landscape and supply markets.

Ray Taviner, who sits alongside Mr Kjærsgaard during our interview and wears a high-vis jacket emblazoned with OSB’s logo, says there is already indisputable evidence to answer such queries.

Recruited as operations director, he is overseeing the factory’s rebirth, and as a local, is fully aware of the benefits OSB is delivering.

He added: “I live in Stockton, so this is really close to my heart.

“This development matters a lot to this area, and it’s going to be an important part of the local economy.

“Tag did what they did, but Bladt and EEW are market-leaders in what they do, so them being here will be a real injection for Teesside and its supply chain.

“The Thistle Hotel and Premier Inn are already full with our guys and the flights from Schiphol at Durham Tees Valley Airport are the same.

“The UK guys we are taking on will also go to Denmark and Germany for training.

“The expertise is over there, so it will get them used to Bladt and EEW’s processes and give them knowledge they will need when working over here.

“It’s all just a reflection of what is to come.”

As I leave the factory, the weather delivers with impeccable timing.

Gone is the mist, burned away by the sun, with the plant now bathing in the glow of its watery heat.

There will be no complaints if OSB, and Mr Kjærsgaard, have the same effect on the factory.