The Lochaber area could be in for a jobs windfall if plans announced by the new owner of the Fort William aluminium complex are realised.
The GFG Alliance bought the site and estate lands from Rio Tinto in a £330 million deal in December and immediately committed to revitalise the smelter and nearby hydro schemes, to construct state-of-the-art facilities to manufacture automotive products and to develop and enhance the extensive estate lands.
“Lochaber now has an enormous once in a lifetime economic opportunity” Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy Fergus Ewing has said after chairing the first meeting of the Lochaber Delivery Group.
The Delivery Group brings together senior leadership from the Highland Council, Highlands & Islands Enterprise and a range of public sector bodies. It will coordinate activity in support of the industrial and economic vision of the GFG Alliance – incorporating manufacturing firm Liberty House and its sister company SIMEC – which is investing a total £450 million in the area.
The meeting reviewed investment plans that are expected to safeguard the 170 jobs and create up to an additional 1,000 direct and 1,000 indirect posts in the supply chain according to the company.
It is predicted the investment will add around £1 billion to the local economy over the next decade.
The Group met for the first time before Liberty unveiled two new biofuel generators at the Lochaber smelter, marking the beginning of the site’s redevelopment.
Mr Ewing said:
“This investment is great news for the whole local community. The deal has already safeguarded 170 direct jobs and the GFG estimates their plans to build new production facilities on-site will contribute towards eventually creating up to 1,000 direct and 1,000 indirect posts, contributing as much as £1bn to the local economy, and sparking an economic revival in these Highland communities.
“We have built up excellent working relations with Liberty in our successful dealings in saving the steel plants at Dalzell and Clydebridge and the Delivery Group will work with the companies to facilitate and maximise the opportunity its investment will bring. This includes planning for housing and associated services, the construction of the new factory premises and ensuring the right kind of training is in place for workers.
“With the meeting of the Lochaber Delivery Group – and the redevelopment work at the smelter now underway – an exciting new chapter in the history of the local area has now begun. The UK’s last remaining aluminium smelter will continue as a key component of Scotland’s industrial capability, and as a major source of employment in the Highlands and Islands, and the planned factory promises further expansion, opportunity and growth for communities in Lochaber and beyond.”
Margaret Davidson, Leader of Highland Council, said:
“The proposals being brought forward represent the largest inward investment project which The Highland Council has dealt with in Lochaber and one of the largest ever in the Highlands. It shows that the area is very much open for business. The Lochaber Delivery Group is an excellent innovation and the council is pleased to be part of taking this transformational project forward”.
GFG Alliance (Liberty/SIMEC) Executive Chairman Sanjeev Gupta said:
“One of the key reasons we invested in the Highlands was because people welcomed us here. That’s been reinforced by the positive response of the many agencies in the new Lochaber Delivery Group who are eager to play their part in delivering the goal of a clean, competitive and sustainable manufacturing sector in the Highlands.”
Charlotte Wright, interim chief executive of HIE, said:
“Liberty’s commitment to the area, retaining and creating employment and boosting the local economy is an excellent example of the benefits this type of inward investment can bring to the region. Lochaber has a great deal to offer the company, not least in attracting a talented workforce to some of the country’s most outstanding environment. The Delivery Group has an important role in helping to facilitate the company’s growth in Lochaber and I am very pleased to be part of that.”