Uncertain future for Ironbridge towers of power

For more than 80 years, it has been the powerhouse of Shropshire.

Uncertain future for Ironbridge towers of power

But the steaming towers of Ironbridge Power Station are set to vanish from the county's landscape in the not-too-distant future.

This picture, taken from the air by Jason Garton, of Stirchley, shows off the scale of the towers at the landmark station. He was on a trip in his friend Nigel Burton's A22 Foxbat light aircraft when he passed over the iconic site.

The station at Buildwas will close before the end of the year, although its long-term future remains unclear.

It is owned by power company E.on, which today confirmed the plant will close by the end of the year.

But E.on spokeswoman Roxanne Postle said the company had yet to decide on a closure date.

"No decision has been made as to what is going to happen to the site afterwards," said Miss Postle.

Under European Union directives, ageing plants like Ironbridge have been legally limited in the emissions they can produce, and Ironbridge's operating hours have been restricted since 2008.

While some obsolete power stations are being mothballed in the event of future energy shortages, Miss Postle ruled out any chance of that for the Ironbridge site.

The site briefly gained a new lease of life in 2012 when it was given permission for a trial of the use of biofuel, bringing 100 new jobs to the station.

However, Eon does not plan to re-licence the station as a biomass plant beyond this year's closure date.

The trial was criticised by green campaigners, who claimed that the biofuel used – imported wood pellets – were being produced from important forests in America.

But while the power station has come in for much criticism from environmentalists over the past few years ­— it was branded a 'dinosaur' by pressure group Friends of the Earth, which labelled it as the Midlands' prime environmental culprit ­— there are people who want to see the site preserved for future generations.

The towering chimneys have been a feature of the Gorge for about 50 years, but their future is uncertain with the power plant set to close before the end of next year.

English Heritage said they could not be protected as they did not meet its strict criteria, meaning there is a strong chance they will be demolished.

Retired engineer Keith Newby has said he would fight tooth and nail to save the towers, which have a distinctive pink pigmentation.

Ironbridge was selected to be the site of a large, modern "super power station" by the West Midlands Joint Electricity Authority, in February 1927.

The close proximity of the River Severn and several railway lines provided excellent access to both cooling water and a source for the delivery of coal. The flat land of the site, formed by fluvial processes at the end of the last ice-age, was ideal for the construction of a large turbine hall.

The first power station on the site, later known as Ironbridge A, was officially opened in October 1932.

As a result of the increasing demand for electricity after the Second World War, it was decided by the Central Electricity Generating Board that a new, larger, 1000MW power station called Ironbridge B, was to be constructed alongside the original station. Work started on the site in 1962, and it was during this time that the four familiar cooling towers were constructed, and Ironbridge B was up and running by 1969.

Project architect Alan Clark worked closely with landscape architect Kenneth Booth, to ensure that the station merged as seamlessly as possible into its natural surroundings, and was hidden from the general view by wooded hills.

A red pigment was added to the concrete for the cooling towers, at a cost of £11,000, to ensure they blended in with local soil.

The station's 673ft chimney is the tallest structure in Shropshire, as well as being taller than Blackpool Tower and London's BT Tower.

Ironbridge A closed in 1981, and part of it was demolished in 1983, although other areas were given listed status.

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