ENGINEERING tycoon Jim McColl has expressed hopes his planned takeover of the collapsed Ferguson yard at Port Glasgow can be a turning point for Clyde shipbuilding.

After winning preferred bidder status yesterday he anticipated building a ­workforce of between 100 and 120 within 12 to 18 months, raising this to 300 and possibly beyond within three years.

Seventy of the remaining 77 employees at Ferguson were made redundant after the yard fell into administration on August 14.

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Mr McColl expressed his delight after joint administrators Blair Nimmo and Tony Friar of KPMG named his Clyde Blowers Capital operation preferred bidder for the business and assets of Ferguson Shipbuilders, Newark Joiners and Ferguson-Ailsa.

The entrepreneur, who saved about 550 jobs by buying Glasgow-based Weir Pumps from Weir Group in 2007, said: "We have seen the decline in shipbuilding in the Clyde over the years, apart from some of the naval work. I think that has been because there has been a lack of investment, particularly in new technologies."

He added: "I think there is a huge opportunity there to create a leading marine engineering technology business on the Clyde . I see this as a turning point for shipbuilding on the Clyde. It is a challenge I really relish. I think it would be a great satisfaction to see this industry turned around and the heritage of shipbuilding on the Clyde come back to the fore again."

Mr McColl revealed he had spoken with Alex Salmond on Sunday about his focus on building up the yard, and had told the First Minister he would appreciate any support the Scottish Government could offer.

The entrepreneur, who sees scope for the Port Glasgow yard to work on vessels for the oil and gas and renewable energy sectors as well as building ferries, said: "He has given us his commitment to do all he can to support this."

Mr Salmond said he was delighted Clyde Blowers Capital had been named preferred bidder.

He added: "Jim McColl's company is one of Scotland's greatest job creators."

Mr McColl also revealed former Ferguson owner Alan Dunnet had agreed to sell him land at the site for the same price at which it was transferred from the shipbuilding operation to another family company, Holland House Electrical Company, in the months before the shipyard went into administration. The total price is believed to be about £600,000.

The Dunnet family bought Ferguson in 1995 and owned it until its fall into administration.

Mr McColl, who was visiting one of his companies at Fremantle in Western Australia, said: "[Alan] Dunnet has agreed in principle to sell us the land at the same price he bought it for. His main concern was this land was used for the future of the yard. I found the man very decent to deal with. He is not looking to benefit in any way from his ownership of the land."

Mr McColl, who plans to invest "many millions" of pounds in the Ferguson yard, was one of four bidders to submit offers by last Thursday's deadline. Rangers directors James and Sandy Easdale, of bus company McGill's, had submitted a rival bid but withdrew on Friday and expressed their support for Mr McColl's bid.

Mr McColl, chairman and chief executive of Clyde Blowers Capital, hopes to restart operations at the yard by September 9, and to begin recruiting early next week.

Signalling he would aim to re-hire many of those made redundant, he added: "We are keen to build a workforce with the talent to achieve the ambitions we have got for this yard. Obviously, the pool that were there before are the ideal source to go after."