Plans to make Fort William a future hub of Britain’s automotive industry reached another milestone this week as ground engineers moved onto the site earmarked for Liberty’s flagship alloy wheels factory.
The technical team moved in with their rigs and excavators for six weeks of in-depth ground investigations which will provide vital information for the design of foundations for the planned plant that is intended to manufacture wheels for at least a fifth of all UK-made cars from 2022 onwards.
The innovative £120m plant, which will take its liquid metal directly from the adjacent Liberty British Aluminium smelter at Fort William, is expected to create around 400 skilled jobs, with many hundreds more employed in the supply chain and regional economy.
In addition, it will add significant value to a high proportion of the aluminium tonnage made by the smelter. This unique value proposition is being offered to the prospective new customers via the Liberty Liquid Metal Index.
Overseeing the ground investigation operation at Fort William this week was Dr Douglas Dawson, chief executive of Liberty Industries Group, part of Sanjeev Gupta’s GFG Alliance, who heads Liberty’s extensive network of factories making key components for the UK and international automotive industry.
He said: “Vehicle manufacturing works on long-term design and production cycles, with new models expected to come on stream in 2022/23. Our aim is to ensure this new wheels factory is up and running in time to feed fully into the supply chain for that next cycle. However as everyone knows, the UK automotive industry is in a state of uncertainty at the moment and our plans are linked predominantly to demand from the auto sector, so we need to keep a close eye on the situation and continue our dialogue with the car makers. We’ll be having further important discussions with them in the near future.”
Dr Dawson said that, following ground investigation at the site, Liberty will continue to develop the plans to discharge relevant conditions prior to construction which is expected to begin in early 2020 and continue until late 2021.
Installation and commissioning of multi-million-pound equipment and machinery will take place over subsequent months, followed by production trials. Once in operation, the plant will have the capacity to make around two million alloy wheels a year for a wide range of vehicles.
In parallel with construction and commissioning activity, the Lochaber Delivery Group, comprising local authorities and public agencies, led by Scottish Government and Liberty, will continue planning the housing, infrastructure and local services investments necessary to accommodate the arrival of new workers to the area.
While in Fort William this week, Dr Dawson also turned his attention to wheels of another kind when he presented a Liberty-made superbike to Alan Donald, a process controller in the aluminium smelter who chose a name for the new office block just opened at the site to house the project team overseeing the building of the wheels plant.
Alan chose the Gaelic name ‘Aisling Mor’ which means ‘Big Dream’ to reflect the ambitious vision Liberty has for the site as a future centre of manufacturing excellence for Britain’s multi-billion-pound car industry.
Said Dr Dawson: “That name was perfect for a building that will be at the heart of this exciting project. We have chosen to dream big because Fort William has so much potential and we want to unlock that potential and create something of real value for the local and regional economy.”