One day into the job as Culture Secretary and Nadine Dorries has aleady signed the death warrant of the Dorman Long Tower, symbol of Teesside’s industrial past, unique example of brutalist architecture, and source of copious amounts of scrap metal for those authorised to take it away.
Only last week, Historic England, assigned it grade II listed status in order to prevent its demolition, at the hands of Tees Valley mayor, Ben Houchen, and the property developers who have a remarkable degree of influence over developments at the Teesworks site in which the tower is situated. Houchen it was who commissioned what was billed as an independent structural engineers’ report which concluded that the structure was unsound. That report was, and remains, confidential and beyond public scrutiny.
Houchen doesn’t do scrutiny.
Once bitten twice shy
It’s once bitten twice shy in Houchen’s world. He allowed the Primetals report on the future of the Redcar Blast Furnace to be published earlier this year only to be held to ridicule for it, as the brief the consultants were given made the recommendation to demolish it a racing certainty. In the middle of 2020, Tees Valley Monitor (TVM) published a list of his donors as shown in the Electoral Commission register. He has made no declaration to the Commission since. At every meeting of the South Tees Development Corporation (STDC) or Tees Valley Combined Authority (TVCA) he invokes the 2011 Localism Act and excludes press and public from most of the meetings. In July we asked to attend a STDC cabinet meeting. He invoked the Act eight minutes into a two-hour meeting.
On the other hand, he is very relaxed about ripping up the STDC masterplan as and when it suits him. As late as the 2019 version of that plan, the retention and development of both the tower and the blast furnace were warmly embraced. This led naïve Redcar MP, Jacob Young, to wax eloquent on his love for the tower, to advertise that he kept a picture of it in his Westminster office, and to loudly advocate for its preservation. He was then thrown under a bus by Houchen, who decided with little warning that he wanted it down. And fast.
The grade II listing for the tower has been in existence for four days, Dorries has been in post for one, and already the listing has been reversed and the demolition scheduled.
Some have pointed out that Houchen must have been very sure of securing this outcome as a demolition of a building of this size requires some advance preparation. Which may lead some to question why demolition experts, Thompson’s of Prudhoe have been seen around the base of the tower in recent days. In Houchen’s world, the sooner it’s down, the sooner it will be forgotten about.
To hell with heritage. A concrete structure is full of rebar. And rebar has resale value.
Houchen is selling this region for scrap. In order to achieve this, he made a Faustian pact with Dorries. That will yet come back to bite him.
Read more by Scott Hunter