Redcar blast furnace demolished after failed appeal to save industrial monument | Steel industry

There was a countdown and a boom and within seconds much of Britain’s once proud and world famous industrial heritage was gone.

“I have mixed emotions,” said Tony Evans after watching the blast furnace at Redcar, Teesside, be demolished at 9am on Wednesday. He had worked there from editor to production manager for decades; he had met a young engineer who had become his wife, and had formed friendships that lasted forever.

“I’m certainly not happy to see him go. I’m sad. But hopefully there will be a bright future and we can pass this area on to the next generation,” he said.

The blast furnace, as tall as St Paul’s Cathedral in London, had dominated the area and its skyline since 1979. When it opened, it was the second largest blast furnace in Europe, producing 10,000 tonnes of iron per day for the steelworks. It was ultra-modern and was to represent the start of a new era for British steelmaking. For a while it did. But soon the industry narrative turned into a gradual decline.

Evans said he gazed in awe at buildings like the blast furnace, the same way friends gazed at landscapes in the Lake District. “To see it fall so quickly, especially because I spent a large part of my life there, is sad. But industries change. I hope net zero and hydrogen will create jobs for my children and their children. When you work somewhere like the blast furnace, you think it’s there for life, but things are moving.

The Redcar steelworks, pictured in 2019, four years after it closed. Photograph: Frank Augstein/AP

The structure collapsed after what was one of the most complex and difficult demolition projects in recent years.

Some people have suggested that it doesn’t need to come down at all, that it should be kept as an industrial heritage tourist attraction. The campaign was supported by the Maximo Park groupwhich lead singer Paul Smith argued could be “a source of local pride”.

The Conservative Mayor of Tees Valley, Ben Houchen, disagree. He said the cost would be astronomical. Speaking on Wednesday’s teardown, he said: “It’s a bit of a strange day, a lot of people will be sad to see him go. But there’s a lot of support for the plans we have to redevelop this site and create the jobs of the future.

He said activists trying to keep the blast furnace were “a very small minority” and most people supported his plans.

“We must be proud of the industrial past that we have, but we must create an industrial future, and while the landscape will change forever, today the plan is to create a new landscape that we can be proud of for years to come. come. ,” he said.

When the blast furnace opened, it was intended to ensure that Teesside would “remain one of the most important steel-producing regions in the world for a long time to come”. The front page of the British Steel Corporation’s newspaper, Steel News, had the joyful headline “Enlighten Your Hearts!” “. He said there were “cheers, smiles and kisses as the lighting of the giant Redcar blast furnace ushers in a new era for British steelmaking”.

But the bright future never happened. The furnace, once a symbol of proud prosperity and industrial success, was mothballed in 2010.

Hope was reborn in 2012 when the Thai conglomerate SSI bought the steelworks. But it was not to be. The blast furnace went cold for good in 2015drawing the curtain on a century of steelmaking in Redcar.

On Wednesday, 175 kg of explosives were used at 40 sites to bring down the casting workshops, the dust collector, the load conveyors and the blast furnace itself. Spectators watched from outside a 250 meter exclusion zone. The boom could be heard at least 20 miles away.

The demolition was carried out by Thompsons of Prudhoe, workers who spent months removing hazardous materials and preparing the site. The fact that it was exposed to the elements for years added to the complexity of the project, said project manager Mike Stoddart.

“We work bottom-up rather than top-down, using the explosives,” Stoddart said. “It’s a very exciting project, judging by its scale. It’s heavy. We can use burning material, but the two and a half inch steel and cast iron staves inside the blast furnace don’t cut easily.

Stoddart suggested that the demolitions that many people would remember watching television programs such as Blue Peter were a thing of the past. “There’s a lot of engineering involved in demolition now, more than people realize. They think it’s like [the steeplejack] Fred Dibnah and wrecking balls. That perception, in my eyes, is long gone.


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