TEES Valley Mayor Ben Houchen has called for an empty supermarket to be considered for use as an emergency temporary hospital.

The vacant building in Middlesbrough has stood empty for five years after Sainsbury’s opted out of a potential move from its current home in the town’s Wilson Street, in 2015, leaving it without a tenant.

Although plans remain in the pipeline to split it into smaller units, the 80,000 sq ft facility remains empty.

Mayor Houchen has written to Cleveland Police’s Chief Constable, Richard Lewis, in his role as Chairman of Gold Command for the response to the coronavirus pandemic.

His letter pinpoints the building as a suitable location for a temporary hospital in Teesside, to prevent existing hospital capabilities becoming overrun amid the rapidly spreading virus.

It follows yesterday’s Government announcement that two new temporary hospitals would be set up in Birmingham and Manchester to help the NHS cope with the pandemic.

The new hospitals, at the National Exhibition Centre in Solihull, near Birmingham, and Manchester Conference Centre, would be used alongside a facility at London’s ExCel centre, known as NHS Nightingale, which will be ready for use from next week.

Mayor Houchen has already offered the use of the St George Hotel, at Teesside International Airport, as a location for a temporary medical facility.

He said: “The Government has implemented its strict guidelines around social distancing in an effort to slow the spread of the virus and alleviate the strain on our NHS workers and out amazing health workers.

“However, it is only right that plans are put in place for the scenario that these steps do not contain the spread of the virus across Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool.

“The empty supermarket building in Middlehaven has a great deal of extra capacity which potentially could provide a ready-built solution, should the virus spread more quickly than hoped.

“That is why I have asked for this to be looked into as a potential solution.

“The utilisation of such a facility would increase capacity, relieve pressure locally, and help to save lives.

“We should be doing everything we can to help, and if this facility is deemed a suitable location, we should look into making it available to those who may sadly need it.”

He added: “Our absolute priority is to protect life and do all we can to support the most vulnerable in our society, and I will continue to do everything I can and look into every possibility to make sure we all get through this very difficult time for everyone.”