THE 162 coke ovens at Redcar's closed steelworks will burn out this morning and be lost forever unless a County Durham coal company can strike an 11th-hour rescue deal, The Northern Echo understands.

The last-minute plan by Hargreaves Services could save 400 jobs and throw a potential lifeline to the rest of the steelworks, meaning it can be carefully mothballed.

But the Government was last night accused of "throwing the towel in" as it said not another penny of taxpayers' money would be invested to keep the ovens going.

The entire future of the former SSI site at Redcar - which went into liquidation on Friday with the loss of 1,700 jobs - now lies in the hands of its official receivers, with a decision on Hargreaves' plan due imminently.

If the ovens stop burning, they will collapse and never work again, so a rescue package is crucial before coal stocks run out.

Redcar MP Anna Turley said: "My understanding is that we have until 9am. It has been living hand to mouth anyway, it is Hargreaves that is keeping the coke ovens burning."

Business Secretary Sajid Javid said today he would not put "a single pound" of taxpayers' money in to keep the plant's ovens going. Instead he has promised an £80m crisis fund to support redundant steelworkers.

He said any Government cash put into the steelworks would risk being swallowed up by the Thai banks which backed its bankrupt owners, and that he was confident that a commercial deal could be worked out.

But Ms Turley said: "This is proof they have thrown the towel in. They are looking for excuses not to act or participate. I don't agree with his views that they are giving British taxpayers money to Thai banks.

"It is securing a vital asset for the UK."

Ken McGlasson, a supervisor who has worked in the coke ovens for 31 years, said: "These are the Rolls Royce of coke ovens. Letting them go would be criminal and me and the lads would feel so sad if that was allowed to happen."

The deal with Hargreaves would mean the ovens - which produce high-value by-products including electricity and coal-tar product benzol - are commercially viable as a stand-alone operation.

It would also mean the entire plant would be mothballed in a controlled way. The plan would not be a rescue package for the iron and steel operations.

A source told The Northern Echo that Hargreaves' deal was "the only game in town" and warned no-one other than Hargreaves would keep the ovens going. They are understood to have been funding the coal stocks for a while.

There is about 10,000 tonnes of coal at the site to feed the ovens but it requires Hargreaves to continue footing the bill.

Matt Ball, of the Community trade union, said: "If the coke ovens can be kept running there is a chance of the place being mothballed properly. If it all stops then it is the government that will be picking up the bill to mothball their site. If the coke ovens still work then you have retained an asset, and there is value in that."

Middlesbrough MP Andy McDonald said he understood the steelworks would cost a mere £2m to mothball.

"That would avoid an environmental disaster and provide breathing space to find a buyer," he said, as he argued the Government should intervene in "any event".

On Saturday, Redcar Racecourse staged two races highlighting the plight of the town's steelworkers.

Two Save Our Steel races were staged as part of the Totepool Two Year Old Trophy Day on Saturday.

Ms Turley presented the trophy to the winning owner of Return of the Mak, Peter Fahey, the horse winning the 1.50pm at a price of 6/1.

The second race at 2.25pm was won by Out and About, the 11/10 favourite.

The Racecourse’s general manager, Amy Fair, said: “We are a local racecourse for local people.

"We hope that naming a race on our most prestigious race day of the season will help to highlight the Save Our Steel campaign, which is in support of, not only the steelworkers, but also those people whose jobs in other industries are under threat too.”