Derelict shipyard could be demolished after string of arson attacks

PLAGUED BY ARSON ... firefighters say the former Hawthorn Leslie shipyard in Ellison Street, Hebburn, is a risk to the public.''Photo by Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service.
PLAGUED BY ARSON ... firefighters say the former Hawthorn Leslie shipyard in Ellison Street, Hebburn, is a risk to the public.''Photo by Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service.

A DERELICT South Tyneside shipyard which has become an arson hotspot could be demolished, its owners have confirmed.

Five fire crews spent an hour-and-a-half tackling the latest in a string of blazes at the former Hawthorn Leslie building in Ellison Street, Hebburn, on Thursday morning.

We have been called out to numerous incidents at this building over the years, and it presents a definite risk to the safety of our firefighters and the public.

Tyne and Wear Fire Service Group manager Ian Cuskin

The fire service suspect it was started deliberately and has launched a joint investigation with police.

The premises closed a decade ago but plans to flatten the site had been held up by its listed building status.

This listing was finally removed last year, paving the way for a possible redevelopment of the site.

Lancashire-based property development firm MMC Development Limited, which owns the building, says a planning application to redevelop the site is in the pipeline.

South Tyneside Council says it has earmarked the land for economic development after applying to English Heritage for the listed status of the building to be removed due to ‘repeated acts’ of vandalism and fires.

The authority says that no planning application has yet been lodged.

A South Tyneside Council spokesman said: “South Tyneside Council applied to English Heritage to remove this building’s Grade II listed status as it had been damaged by repeated acts of vandalism and fires.

“Its listed status was removed in 2014.

“The site is privately owned and the council has allocated the land for economic development but no planning application to redevelop the land has been received yet.”

While the building had listed status, neither the council nor its owners could press ahead with plans to redevelop the area.

Tyne and Wear Fire Service Group manager Ian Cuskin, who attended the fire on Thursday morning, says the building represents a ‘definite risk’ to fire fighters and the public.

An aerial ladder platform was used to check for fire spreading to the upper floors and roof of the building, while crews faced potential hazards, such as discarded propane cylinders.

No one was inside the building at the time of the fire, and no one was injured.

Firefighters have been called out numerous times to put out blazes started by firebugs at the disused site in recent years.

Hawthorn Leslie’s closed in 1982 and was later acquired by Cammell Laird and A & P group, but now lies derelict.

Group Manager Cuskin said; “ We have been called out to numerous incidents at this building over the years, and it presents a definite risk to the safety of our firefighters and the public.

Dating back to the 1880s, when Newcastle firm R&W Hawthorn amalgamated with the shipbuilding company launched by Hebburn-based Andrew Leslie, the yard was once one of the most revered shipbuilding facilities on the Tyne, famous for building.

It launched many high-class vessels, including HMS Kelly, which was later immortalised in the wartime film In Which We Serve.

However, the yard’s recent legacy is that of a dangerous magnet for firebugs since the premises closed.

Twitter@shieldsgazchris