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Hopes dashed as coil mill sold.

Byline: Karen Mclauchlan And Bill Doult

Corus has sealed a secret multi-million pound deal to sell its Teesside coil plate mill to China.

The mill, which has been out of action for two years, is to be dismantled and shipped out.

Details of the "Chinese takeaway" contract have been kept tightly under wraps by Corus.

But now the Anglo-Dutch steel corporation has finally confirmed that an agreement has been reached.

The coil plate mill was closed two years ago.

There had been hopes it would re-open, and the issue was raised by many of the steel workers who attended the Gazette's Steel Summit held in Redcar on June 1.

When Corus chiefs finally answered questions which were raised at the summit - they refused to attend the event - they said there were "no such plans" for the mill.

And they are still refusing to reveal which company is buying it.

All they would disclose is that the company is "not deemed a direct competitor".

The coil plate mill was closed in 2001.

It saw the axe fall on 230 jobs - although all but three found work thanks to the efforts of the joint trade unions working with local management. A further 70 took voluntary redundancy.

It marked the end of integrated steel making on Teesside. Locally produced steel now makes a 400-mile round trip to South Wales, instead of the 20-mile journey from Lackenby to Hartlepool, to complete the manufacturing process

Work will begin next month on dismantling the plant.

Local unions and MPs today said although they were surprised by the announcement, they did not think it would have a negative impact on Teesside's future.

Earlier this year Corus said it no longer required steel from its Teesside works and was cutting the site adrift.

Mick Mannion, vice-chairman of the multi-union committee on Teesside, said: "It's an old mill and not a very sophisticated one and once you've lost an order book for something like that tragically it never comes back.

"In my opinion it was the wrong decision at the time to close the mill, but you can't go back on it.

"It was never going to be our saviour but as a company if you can realise an asset that must be good for the company. The sooner we can pay off some debts the better."

Mr Mannion believes the sale of the mill to China could be beneficial to Teesside.

"In many respects that's where our markets are," he said.

"I don't think it could help Chinese steelmakers export to the UK because they can't make enough steel for themselves, which is really a problem for the rest of the world."

Redcar MP Vera Baird said: "The site would never have re-opened under Corus' ownership, so it's good that they're making some money by getting rid of a dead asset.

"There is a chance that Teesside could end up supplying China, if we work very hard this could be Teesside's first new export customer."

Corus said though the mill is based in its Construction and Industrial business on Teesside, it was used by its Strip Products business, centred in Wales.

The sale of the plant is part of a review of some of the assets belonging to Strip Products.

A company spokesman insisted the sale "has no bearing" on plans announced at the end of April to turn Teesside Cast Products from an internal supplier to international seller.

"Clearing the site will improve the available work area for projects being carried out by Corus Northern Engineering Services," added the spokesman.

Ms Baird said she didn't think the announcement would impact on Corus' current plans for Teesside.

"All the signs are that they remain committed to the restructuring plans," she added.
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Title Annotation:News Corus
Publication:Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)
Date:Jul 19, 2003
Words:623
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