£120m investment for Fort William smelter

Sanjeev Gupta

Liberty House and SIMEC, members of the GFG Alliance, said they completed a £330 million deal with Rio Tinto to buy Britain’s last remaining aluminium smelter at Fort William — and announced plans for a further £120 million investment in the site that will generate up to 300 jobs directly and hundreds more in the supply chain.

The acquisition includes the hydro-electric station and aluminium smelter at Fort William, the neighbouring hydro-plant at Kinlochleven and more than 100,000 acres of estate land which contains the water catchment area, including the foothills of Ben Nevis.

During a visit by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing to announce the Scottish Government-backed sale, the new owners announced plans to upgrade equipment and establish an aluminium wheel manufacturing facility at the site.

The Scottish Government is supporting the acquisition and investment programme by guaranteeing the power purchases of the aluminium smelter for the next 25 years.

Liberty said it aims to protect the existing 170 jobs in Lochaber and expand metal manufacturing and downstream engineering there — “eventually bringing up to 2,000 direct and supply-chain jobs to the heart of the Highlands and adding around £1 billion to the local economy over the next decade.”

Sanjeev Gupta, executive chairman of Liberty House Group and of the GFG Alliance strategic board, said: “We hope this day will come to be recognised as the start of a bright new future for Highland industry.

“It puts Lochaber right at the heart of our vision for sustainable and integrated local production that can revitalise British manufacturing.

“The Scottish Government has recognised the immense opportunity this investment brings. Their support has been refreshing and inspiring.”

Liberty — under the banner “Liberty British Aluminium” — said it will add extra value to the production of aluminium by integrating the smelter with a new engineering and downstream manufacturing facility.

SIMEC will operate the hydro plants within its UK portfolio of renewable power assets.

A key customer for SIMEC Lochaber Hydro will be the smelter — a big user of electricity to process alumina into aluminium.

Sturgeon said: “This is a historic day for the UK’s last remaining aluminium smelter here in Lochaber.

“GFG Alliance’s buyout of the complex will protect 170 existing jobs and with ambitious plans to invest in the site, expand operations and add value, we look forward to hundreds of new jobs being created in the coming years.

“The Scottish Government is supporting GFG by guaranteeing the power purchases of the aluminium smelter, which reinforces the essential link between the smelter and hydro station at Fort William and provides a firm foundation for GFG’s ambitious expansion plans.”

Jay Hambro, Chief Investment Officer of the GFG Alliance, and Chief Executive of SIMEC Energy & Mining Divisions said: “These hydro-power stations have enough capacity to power around 83,000 homes.

“Today Lochaber provides the power required to produce 47,000 tonnes of aluminium.

“We have already identified investment programmes to significantly increase power generation from the existing assets and are studying how to create further capacity locally.”

Hambro described the estate land in the Lochaber area as a “sleeping giant” and said: “SIMEC will look to work with Scottish Government, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and all local communities to develop the great potential locked up here.”

The Lochaber deal is an escalation of the GFG Alliance’s investment in Scotland, following Liberty’s acquisition of the Dalzell and Clydebridge Steel plants earlier this year.