Highlands & Islands

Rio Tinto smelter to be sold in deal worth £330m

Fort William smelter
Image caption The smelter is one of the largest employers in Lochaber

A deal worth £330m has been reached for the sale of Rio Tinto's Fort William aluminium smelter which would "safeguard" the future of 150 jobs.

SIMEC and Liberty House, two members of international industrials group GFG Alliance, expect their purchase to be completed in the next four weeks.

The purchase includes hydro power plants near the site and at Kinlochleven.

It involves more than 100,000 acres of land including Ben Nevis' foothills.

Liberty, which reopened the steel plate mill at Dalzell in Motherwell, and SIMEC is funding the deal with a mixture of equity and funds raised through a securitisation programme.

The companies said their investment in Lochaber was being backed by the Scottish government through a variety of business support mechanisms, in particular through support for a Liberty contract to purchase power from the hydro-electric plants.

SIMEC and Liberty said the smelter and its associated assets would fit in well with their other business interests.

Image copyright Phillip Williams/Geograph
Image caption The smelter and its associated assets have been sold

Rural Economy and Connectivity Secretary Fergus Ewing, Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch MSP Kate Forbes and Highland Council have welcomed the announcement of the deal.

Mr Ewing said: "The sale of both the smelter and hydro power station increases the chance of the site having a viable, long-term future.

"This is great news for the whole local community and especially for the workers at the smelter.

"Subject to all necessary agreed processes, the deal implemented will safeguard 150 jobs and has the potential to create hundreds more."

He added: "I want to thank Rio Tinto for their positive engagement with ministers and officials throughout the process and I will be sorry to see the company move out of Scotland after such a long association."

Image copyright Rio Tinto
Image caption The £330m transaction includes hydro power schemes

Ms Forbes said: "My hope was always to preserve jobs and continue operations at the smelter, but I think that Liberty House's ambitions for the smelter could put Fort William in the driving seat of industrial expansion, career opportunities and sustainable economic growth.

"Innovation and community benefits were the foundation stones on which the smelter and the hydro scheme were first founded - new villages were built and electricity was generated in Lochaber before anywhere else in Scotland."

The smelter near Ben Nevis has been in existence for almost 90 years.

Rio Tinto announced in January that it was reviewing its operations there. Last month, the company confirmed it was in negotiations to sell the plant.

Image copyright Rio Tinto
Image caption The smelter site lies close to the foothills of Ben Nevis

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