STEELMAKING has resumed at one of the UK's biggest plants after its blast furnace was finally re-lit, sparking a resurgence in the North East economy.
Since the 1,798-acre plant in Redcar was mothballed in 2010, many have worked hard to bring it back to life, and by Wednesday, it will once again be back to business as usual, with almost 1,800 staff producing up to £2.5bn of metal-a-year.
The blast furnace at the Sahaviriya Steel Industries (SSI) Teesside site was lit with a gas lance in a special ceremony yesterday afternoon and the first usable iron slabs will be produced in the next three days, which in turn will be made into steel.
Phil Dryden, an experienced steel industry manager recruited as new owner SSI UK’s chief executive, said yesterday was a “historic event” for the both the company and local people.
He added: “I would like to pay tribute to all those who have made this day possible, including the stakeholders for their investment and the people who have worked so hard on the restart project. We now look forward with confidence to resuming the long tradition of steelmaking on Teesside and establishing SSI UK as world-class steelmaker.”
The Redcar site will produce steel slabs, almost all of which will be exported to Thailand.
A spokesman said: “Initially all the steel will go to Thailand but that is not to say in the future it will be sold on the open market if it is viable.”
Win Viriyaprapaikit, president of SSI said: “This is a very proud day for us in SSI and for me personally. I believe that the investment we have made at Teesside will result in a very successful business which will benefit all of the stakeholders involved, including the local community and employees for generations to come.”
North East Chamber of Commerce chief executive James Ramsbotham said it was an “emotional” day and much credit was given to union boss Geoff Waterfield who died last August as he led the fight to bring steel-making back to the area.
Mr Ramsbotham added: “Igniting the blast furnace yesterday to resume steel-making on Teesside will be an historic and incredibly emotional event, not least for the family and friends of union leader Geoff Waterfield, who fought so hard, alongside many others, to secure a future for his plant, and is greatly missed.”
When Corus closed the furnace in 2010 it saw almost 2,000 people put out of work. But the plant was rescued by Thailand’s biggest steel company, Sahaviriya Steel Industries, which spent $469m to acquire Teesside Cast Products from Indian owner Tata Steel, and pledged a further $1.1bn for investment and start-up costs.
The company had hoped to re-light the furnace – the second largest in Europe – last December but had to postpone due to the scale of the work needed to reline and prepare the site to restart production after two years, bad weather and an unrelated union protest.
After yesterday’s ignition, the first iron suitable to be turned into steel will be produced within three days, and it is hoped the plant will be running at full capacity, producing 3.5m tonnes of steel slab – mainly for export to Asia – by the end of the year.
Union Unite’s Paul Reuter said the plant’s rebirth was a testament to the hard work and dedication of the people of Teesside.
“This is great news for the community and UK manufacturing,” he said. “This is a great reflection of the skills of UK workers. These dedicated workers thoroughly deserve this and the long-term security of employment this brings for them.”
Michael Leahy, general secretary of Community, the steel industry union, said: “It is a great day for Teesside and a tribute to all those who campaigned in the local community and nationally to Save our Steel. We will be working closely with the company to ensure a successful future for all.”