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Mo­tor­ing’s most out­spo­ken and opin­ion­ated colum­nist sounds off

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Mike Rutherford on his fears for Ford’s Da­gen­ham plant

I UN­DER­STAND and be­lieve that Ford will close and de­mol­ish its sprawl­ing Da­gen­ham fac­tory in East Lon­don that once boasted 40,000 work­ers but now em­ploys nearer 4,000. Born in 1931, it went on to oc­cupy 620 acres of Thame­side space. Yet I fear it may not reach its 90th birth­day.

Ford no longer builds ve­hi­cles in Da­gen­ham (or any­where else in the UK). In­stead it uses the site to make in­ter­nal com­bus­tion en­gines that will soon be il­le­gal and un­saleable.

But Da­gen­ham’s likely death as a mo­tor in­dus­try town shouldn’t lead to a fur­ther loss of Ford jobs in Bri­tain. Min­utes away in Es­sex there is am­ple space to ac­com­mo­date quiet, low-im­pact and land­scaped sites for Ford and its part­ners. They’ll de­sign/build the bat­tery packs and elec­tric mo­tors that’ll in­evitably power blue oval-badged ve­hi­cles.

An hour or so fur­ther up the road is East Anglia – a re­gion blessed with much un­der­utilised land, plus keen work­ers ready to sign up for the EV rev­o­lu­tion that’s com­ing.

The ic­ing on the cake is that many of Ford’s ex­ist­ing Da­gen­ham work­ers al­ready live in Es­sex and East Anglia. Zoopla val­ues the av­er­age Lon­don home at £658,000 – way beyond pro­duc­tion line staff at Da­gen­ham. Their mod­i­fied, fu­ture­proof jobs need to head out to the north east of the bot­tom half of Bri­tain.

Trans­form­ing an in­ner city diesel/petrol en­gine fac­tory into a mod­ern bat­tery and EV mo­tor fa­cil­ity makes as much sense as con­vert­ing a coal min­ing shaft into a so­lar en­ergy farm. That’s why Ford must va­cate Lon­don. This will be con­sis­tent with a re­cent for­mal state­ment from World HQ that the firm must now “be­come as lean and ef­fi­cient as pos­si­ble”.

Two non-car blokes con­trol Da­gen­ham’s fate. One is car-loathing Lon­don Mayor, Sadiq Khan, whose bans/fines on com­bus­tion-en­gined ve­hi­cles log­i­cally means he can’t have such ‘lethally pol­lut­ing’ power units built on his patch – al­though I don’t re­mem­ber this from his elec­tion man­i­festo.

The other is Jim Hack­ett, who spent a life­time in the de­ter­gent and fur­ni­ture businesses be­fore be­com­ing Ford CEO this year. He’s a money man, and he and his fel­low bean coun­ters have al­ready worked out that Da­gen­ham is hardly the most ef­fi­cient, ap­pro­pri­ate or cost-ef­fec­tive place to churn out en­gines. In­stead, count­less blocks of £500k-£1m apart­ments on that prime real es­tate by the Thames would give Ford a de­li­cious profit to in­vest in those valu­able jobs and EV fa­cil­i­ties north east of Lon­don.

Trans­form­ing an in­ner city en­gine plant into a mod­ern bat­tery and EV mo­tor site makes sense. That’s why Ford must va­cate Lon­don

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