Great Britain

Can a deal be struck with Thai banks?

THE fate of an eleventh hour deal to bring the former Redcar steelworks into public hands still hangs in the balance.

Efforts to secure agreement between the South Tees Development Corporation (STDC) and three Thai banks accelerated in the run up to the compulsory purchase hearings which began last week.

“Advanced talks” on the deal have continued – with Tuesday marked as D-day for a decision to avoid the compulsory purchase process continuing in South Bank and agree terms on the 870 acres.

But there has been no word on whether the deal had been agreed or dashed.

A planning inspector is judging whether the former SSI steelworks assets should return to public ownership via the hands of the STDC.

Moves to strike a deal in the past three years have come to nought so far.

This impasse saw the CPO process triggered – a legal instrument which allows bodies to obtain land or property without the consent of an owner.

Background talks on a last-minute deal have meant the CPO hearings have been subdued so far – with no cross examination or dissent from the banks’ representatives when the STDC set out its case last week.

STDC bosses argue the regeneration vision to create 20,000 jobs in the next 25 years on the vast south Tees site simply cannot happen without the whole site coming into public hands.

As things stand, representatives of the Thai banks and SSI disagree with this.

They argue they have their own masterplan – which includes the retention and expansion of Redcar Bulk Terminal and a vision for a raft of industries on the former steelworks site.

And they have picked fault in the STDC vision – calling it “fundamentally misconceived” and “significantly premature”

Tensions between the banks and the Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen have been fraught.

Mr Houchen has accused the “three foreign banks” of holding Teesside to ransom over the failure to come to a deal.

Simon Melhuish-Hancock, on behalf of SSI and the banks, branded this offensive in his written evidence to the hearings.

He added: “I doubt very much if Ben Houchen would speak in such derogatory tones about a major UK bank. So I don’t understand why he feels the need to do so about banks simply because they are based in Thailand.”

But the mayor has doubled down on his criticisms – saying he’s emotionally attached to the site.

“If that hurts their feelings, then so be it,” said Mr Houchen.

Costs have been estimated at about £16m a year to keep the former steelworks site safe – with about 5,000 tonnes of “residual by-products” classed as “dangerous substances” on the site.

Since the closure of the steelworks in 2015 – and the loss of more than 2,500 jobs – the government has approved funding of £221m to keep the SSI land safe so the South Tees Site Company can keep running up to 2022.

The CPO hearings are due to recommence at South Tees Business Centre at 10am on Wednesday – with objectors due to air their concerns.