A HERITAGE taskforce is recommending Redcar’s iconic blast furnace should be dismantled – but say they will continue to look at how it can preserve other structures.

The Teesworks Heritage Taskforce has completed its report looking at how to preserve Teesside’s history of iron and steelmaking on the former SSI site in Redcar.

It was set up in September by Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen as part of wider plans to regenerate the site following the closure of the steelworks in 2015. 

The taskforce, which is chaired by Redcar MP Jacob Young and Kate Willard, has been examining how best to celebrate the region's industrial history. 

Releasing the results of their report, they said: "Local people in our communities are rightly proud and passionate about this site, and identify with the history and massive contribution made by everyone who worked in iron and steel in our area.

"These recommendations are just the first step in what we see as being a developing programme which will continue to listen to people’s contributions and views.

“There are some fantastic stories to tell, and there are so many ways we can capture them.

"By using all of the opportunities and resources at our disposal, from traditional techniques such as working with our local artists and creators, to using cutting-edge digital technology, we can make sure this history is shared widely and secured to educate and entertain people now, and for future generations.

“We were always clear that this exercise is not just about looking back, but also using this history of the industry and the workers who made it possible as an inspiration to drive future economic growth and job opportunities in the region." 

The Northern Echo:

How the core of the blast furnace could look - graphic by Sam Kitchener

It has been recommended that the blast furnace is dismantled but that further work is done to assess the future of the Dorman Long Tower at South Bank, which could be retained on the site.

It was also recommended that a plan is put in place to identify and record what materials and artefacts of industrial architecture from the blast furnace should be salvaged to create future memorials or displays on the Teesworks site, or another location.

Geoff Taylor, chairman of the Save our Steel Heritage group, which has been campaigning to retain the core of the furnace, said: "I'm looking at the report with sadness, not just for our team but for Teesside and our heritage."

He added we would like to see a report commissioned to assess his group's proposals. 

More than 200 people took part in the taskforce's consultation. Of those people, about a third had a view on the blast furnace specifically, with just over half calling for its demolition and the rest saying it should be protected. 

There was support for some kind of lasting museum, with some people suggesting the Dorman Long Tower should be preserved. 

Mr Young is leading efforts to save the tower for future generations.

An oral history project was also suggested as a way of recording the site's heritage. 

Mr Houchen said the Teesworks board would consider the recommendations.
He added: "The regeneration of the Teesworks site is a once in a lifetime opportunity and we absolutely have to get it right.

“When our steelworks closed five years ago it was a body blow that affected every single community, and when I was elected mayor I made a promise to our proud steelworkers and the people Redcar that I would breathe new life into the site, and that is exactly what I am doing. We have the land; we have the money, and we have the plan.”

Jessie Joe Jacobs, Labour’s mayoral candidate, who has been campaigning with the Save our Steel Heritage group to retain part of the furnace, said: "Houchen is making a big mistake. The Conservatives ripped the heart out of Teesside when they took away large scale steel-making and this will be finishing the job.

"The furnace means a lot to generations of people who worked in the industry. It is a still important icon of who we are and what we built. It won't be going down without a fight.

"But it is not just nostalgia. Heritage icons like the blast furnace can play a huge part in economic regeneration. There are countless examples across the globe like the Angel of the North and the Landschaftpark in Germany where rather than being discarded, industrial history has preserved cultural identity and led to tourist interest and complemented existing industries."