Concerns grow as Rio Tinto put up for sale
CONCERNS over the future of a Lochaber smelter have once again come to the fore with news the site is up for sale.
Owners Rio Tinto announced earlier this year it was reviewing its operation in Lochaber, putting more than 160 jobs at risk.
In May, The Oban Times reported a working group of Highland Council and Chamber of Commerce representatives visited an area in Wales where a power plant had recently shut to learn what life is like for local people following the closure.
Members of the community this week contacted The Oban Times after receiving further information that there are currently five bidders vying to buy the plant.
Heather Ledge said in a letter: ‘That means the factory is closing and the foreign owners are selling the biggest hydro scheme in Britain to the highest bidder, no doubt for many millions of dollars. How can we let them do this to us?
‘As we all know, almost 100 years ago the BA was given special privileges by parliament and took a vast area of our land to harness our rainfall, to provide electricity to give local employment. That was the deal and it worked very well for successive generations.’
Speaking to The Oban Times, David Outhwaite from Rio Tinto was keen to emphasise the company is still considering a number of options for the future of the plant.
He said: ‘The strategic review for Lochaber is progressing well and we continue working on a range of options. These include the potential for the smelter continuing as a Rio Tinto operation, as well as assessing prospective partners, investors and buyers.
‘This is part of Rio Tinto’s usual review process and it is not the outcome of any conclusion from the strategic review.’
Brian Murphy, councillor for Fort William and Ardnamurchan, shed a little more light on the situation. He said: ‘We received an email from Brian King [manager at the smelter] on June 30 which said there are a number of interested parties and they have formally shortlisted a small group with which they will now go into detailed discussions.’
Mr Murphy said the prospect of a sale is not worrying in itself, but agreed it is the lack of clarity which can be troublesome especially for those who are employed by the plant. He continued: ‘There is not really much to go on, but I remain optimistic that aluminium smelting will continue in Lochaber. The smelter has been there for around 80 years. It is very important to the Lochaber economy, and having worked there for more than 20 years I know only too well that it means so much, not only to the people who work there, but to contractors and drivers.
‘The email didn’t outline any timeframe, but in previous discussions it has been mentioned that it might be around September before we know anything concrete.’
Fraser Grieve, of the Scottish Council for Development and Industry, part of the working group who visited the former power plant in Wales, said: ‘The Lochaber smelter is a tremendous asset and whilst Rio Tinto continue to carry out their review it is right that they should talk with interested parties, looking at what the best future for the site is and the staff there.
‘Whilst that strategic review is ongoing, the Joint Working Group looking at Rio Tinto’s assets in the region is continuing to discuss and look at how other aspects of their estate can be utilised for the benefit of the wider community.
‘I’m reassured that Rio Tinto are working closely with different groups as they conduct their strategic review and want to ensure a long term future for the site.’
The Lochaber smelter is a tremendous asset Fraser Grieve Scottish Council for Development and Industry