Con­cerns grow as Rio Tinto put up for sale

The Oban Times - - News - MON­ICA GIB­SON mgib­son@oban­

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 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

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