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Plan to produce car parts at historic Highland aluminium plant

The Rio Tinto smelter at Fort William.
The Rio Tinto smelter at Fort William.

The new owners of the historic aluminium smelter in Lochaber are planning to create hundreds of extra jobs by producing car parts.

The Press and Journal understands that the Liberty House Group wants the Alcan plant in Fort William to diversify into alloys and hubcaps for the automotive industry.

Liberty House and SIMEC, two members of international industrials group GFG Alliance, last month announced their intention to buy the assets owned by mining giant Rio Tinto in the Highlands.

The £330million acquisition – which will safeguard 150 direct jobs and end a year of uncertainty – is expected to be completed next week.

Scottish ministers said that the deal could pave the way for the creation of “hundreds” of extra jobs in the community.

The smelter, which is the last of its kind in the UK and dates back to the 1920s, currently produces about 40,000 tonnes of aluminium each year, generally cast in 10 tonne blocks.

Sources said that the Liberty House bosses have briefed workers at the plant on plans to create new products, including car parts.

One even claimed that another 600 jobs could be created as a result of the diversification plans.

A spokesman for the company would not confirm the proposals, but said: “We hope to complete the acquisition very soon. At that point we will be happy to discuss details.”

Ross, Skye and Lochaber MP Ian Blackford welcomed the move last night.

“I did believe there was an opportunity for the facility at Fort William to move more downstream,” he said.

“It makes an awful lot of sense. When you look at the operation, it’s very much on the small scale. But there’s a shift towards the use of aluminium in the UK.

“It would seem to me to be eminently sensible.”

Mr Blackford added that the prospect of hundreds of new jobs being created in Lochaber would exacerbate the need for new housing developments in the region.

“It does raise a very important point. I think there’s a principle for me that we need more appropriate land for housing in Lochaber,” he said.

The purchase agreement comprises the sale of 100% of Rio Tinto’s shareholding in Alcan Aluminium UK, which includes the operating smelter, the hydroelectric facilities at Kinlochleven and Lochaber as well as associated land.

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