Lochaber alloy wheels plant dropped in favour of new £94m recycled aluminium facility

The company behind stalled plans for an alloy wheel manufacturing facility in Lochaber has formally shelved the project in favour of a new £94 million plan to recycle aluminium on the proposed site.

Lochaber alloy wheels plant dropped in favour of new £94m recycled aluminium facility

Industrial group GFG Alliance gained planning permission in January 2018 for the near-£130 million expansion of its existing aluminium smelter in Fort William. The Keppie-designed project was ready to start last year but was put on hold due to uncertainty surrounding Brexit and the UK car industry.

Now Alvance Aluminium, which is part of GFG Alliance, has announced a £94m investment package to transform the site into a new recycling and casting facility that will take aluminium production at its Fort William plant from just over 40,000 tonne per annum (ktpa) to 80ktpa.

The new facility will produce 80ktpa of long, round shapes (billets) for the domestic construction sector which currently relies heavily on imports. To support the developments Alvance is also proposing significant upgrades to the nearby port of Corpach to improve efficiency of material flow.

Proposals will be submitted to the Highland Council for approval and formally replace the previously announced plan for an alloy wheels factory due to a significant decline in the UK automotive sector.

Once approved, the new integrated business plan and associated developments will secure the long-term future of the Fort William aluminium smelter, safeguarding 200 local jobs and creating 70 new high quality roles.

Subject to approvals and any further impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Alvance aims to commence the new development works in 2021 and target full operation by 2024.

Sanjeev Gupta, GFG Alliance executive chairman, said: “The transformation plan we’re announcing today underlines our commitment to investing in Scotland. Recycling aluminium saves 95% of the energy needed to produce primary aluminium and is a key part of GFG’s CN30 mission to be carbon neutral by 2030. By utilising domestic scrap aluminium that is currently exported, we will nearly double production here at Fort William.

“These investments will make us more competitive and will deliver a higher value product in the form of billet for construction to domestic and export markets.”

Lochaber alloy wheels plant dropped in favour of new £94m recycled aluminium facility

How the alloy plant would have looked

Fergus Ewing MSP, cabinet secretary for rural economy and tourism, said: “The Scottish Government is committed to working with Alvance Aluminium to secure the long-term future of the Fort William smelter, grow output and employment through investment in downstream manufacturing capability.  We will work with Alvance to consider the new business plan and to secure the earliest possible investment in the Fort William complex.”

Brian King, chairman of Alvance British Aluminium, added: “I’m very pleased to be putting these plans forward which will provide a long-term future for our Fort William operations. Since putting forward our original plans for a wheels factory the automotive industry has gone through significant decline in the UK. 

“Fortunately, the construction industry is buoyant and is using ever more aluminium billet giving us the chance to produce a quality product making use of primary metal from the smelter and recycled scrap. There will be opportunities for local firms to be involved in the construction of the new facilities and new job opportunities for local people.”

In a new venture for the group, GFG Alliance is also tabling plans for a new water canning facility, located next to the Fort William plant, to package Scottish Highlands water into recycleable aluminium cans to provide an alternative to plastic bottles for sale to the UK and international market.

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