The Tees Valley mayor and combined authority have today (March 15) approved the move to make a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) to secure the remaining 870 acres of land at the former SSI Steelworks.
The approval came as mayor Ben Houchen, who is also chairman of the South Tees Development Corporation (STDC), declared “enough is enough” and vowed to bring the remaining 870 acres of land owned by SSI UK in receivership – including Redcar Blast Furnace – back into public ownership as soon as possible.
Last month a landmark deal was signed by the Tees mayor to acquire over half of the developable land on the South Tees Development Corporation site from Tata Steel Europe.
At 1,420 acres, it represents an area about the size of Gibraltar.
Negotiations to secure the remaining 870 acres of land held by SSI UK in receivership have been ongoing since May 2017, and seemed to reach a turning point when Mayor Houchen, vice chairs Steve Gibson OBE and Cllr Sue Jeffrey, and other STDC board members reached an agreement in principle with the three banks in Thailand who hold a charge over the SSI UK’s assets.
These negotiations have since reached a deadlock, and despite numerous attempts to negotiate a transfer of land back to the people, no final agreement has been reached.
The mayor has repeatedly stated that CPO powers would be exercised if an agreement could not be concluded by March 2019.
Speaking after the meeting, mayor Ben Houchen said: “While we have already secured more than half of all developable land on site, I’m not prepared to wait any longer to acquire the remaining 870 acres held by SSI UK in receivership.
“We have been negotiating in good faith since I was elected, but it’s clear now that the Thai Banks are taking us for a ride.
“Almost 3,000 people lost their livelihoods in 2015 when SSI collapsed, and I owe it to the former steelworkers and their families to secure the rest of the site for the people of Teesside where it belongs.
“I’m not prepared to write blank cheques on behalf of the taxpayer and be held to ransom by three foreign banks. We will commence compulsory purchase proceedings this month, and we’ll pay fair market value and not a penny more.
“The Thai Banks are clearly not playing ball, so we’ll exercise the powers handed to us by Parliament to ensure local people are back in control of the entire site. Once we control the entire site, we’ll be able to land even more investment and create even more jobs for local people.”
Since it was launched by the Prime Minister in August 2017, STDC has already seen more than 100 enquiries from around the world, with a potential first-phase investment pipeline of £10billion, as it aims to create 20,000 jobs over the next two decades.
Thanks to Special Economic Area status announced in the 2018 Autumn Budget, the Tees mayor has pledged that rent and business rates from new investors will be used to clean up even more land for development, minimising future asks on the taxpayer.