By Scott Wright

SEVENTY new jobs will be brought to Fort William and 200 will be safeguarded under plans to build a new aluminium recycling and casting facility in the west Highland town.

The pledge came as Alvance Aluminium, a subsidiary of industrial tycoon Sanjeev Gupta’s GFG Alliance, declared the project would ramp up production at its aluminium smelter in Fort William as part of the £94 million investment plan.

The company is set to lodge a planning application with Highland Council for the project, which would see it double aluminium production in Lochaber to 80,000 tonnes per annum from just over 40,000. The new casting facility will be used to produce “billets” or long-rounded shapes that can be moulded into different products for use in the domestic construction sector which, Alvance notes, currently relies heavily on imports.

The proposal marks a change of direction for Alvance in Fort William, where it operates the UK’s only aluminium smelter. The company had been planning to build an alloy wheels factory at the site. However, the downturn in the automotive sector, sparked in part by Brexit and further complicated by the fall-out from coronavirus, led to a change of heart.

In addition to the new recycling and casting facilities, the investment planned by Alvance includes proposals to significantly upgrade the nearby port of Corpach, in a move designed to improve the efficiency of material flow.

GFG Alliance is also tabling plans for a new water canning facility, located next to the Fort William plant, to package water from the Highlands into reusable aluminium cans. The aim is to provide an alternative to plastic bottles, with the cans to be sold to the UK and international markets.

Subject to approval from Highland Council, and any further complications arising from the Covid-19 pandemic, Alvance is aiming to start development works in 2021, with a target to be fully operational by 2024.

The smelter is powered by a hydroelectric station in Fort William, which GFG also acquired in 2016. That deal also brought it the neighbouring hydro-power plant in Kinlochleven and around 120,000 acres of land.

Jay Hambro, chief investment officer of GFG Alliance, said: “One of the key things happening in the smelter here is we are almost doubling capacity by introducing scrap metal into the process. So I think we are right in saying that we probably have some of the greenest aluminium in the world as a liquid product going into the construction material.”

He added: “We have been going through a process of working with construction contractors for some time, so we are confident we will start on or before the spring of 2021.”

Mr Hambro said the project will mean jobs for people with a “vast array” of skills, from sorting scrap aluminium to operators of the proposed casting facility. Asked if the local population could fill the demand, he replied: “We are lucky in Fort William in that there is a heritage in the aluminium space. There is a really good team here who have been very loyal [and] working on this site for a long time. If there are skills required, we have a complex training programme… and will try to recruit as locally as possible.”

Alvance sits in the GFG Alliance alongside the Liberty Steel Group, which has owned and operated the Dalzell and Clydebridge plants in Lanarkshire since rescuing them in 2016.

Mr Gupta, executive chairman of the GFG Alliance, said: “The transformation plan we’re announcing today underlines our commitment to investing in Scotland and our belief in the bright future of green aluminium. Recycling aluminium saves 95 per cent of the energy needed to produce primary aluminium and is a key part of GFG’s CN30 mission to be carbon neutral by 2030. By utilising domestic scrap aluminium that is currently exported, we will nearly double production here at Fort William. These investments will make us more competitive and will deliver a higher value product in the form of billet for construction to domestic and export markets.”

Fergus Ewing, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Tourism said: “The Scottish Government is committed to working with Alvance Aluminium to secure the long-term future of the Fort William smelter, grow output and employment through investment in downstream manufacturing capability. We will work with Alvance to consider the new business plan and to secure the earliest possible investment in the Fort William complex.”

Brian King, chairman of Alvance British Aluminium, said: “I’m very pleased to be putting these plans forward which will provide a long-term future for our Fort William operations. Since putting forward our original plans for a wheels factory the automotive industry has gone through significant decline in the UK.

“Fortunately, the construction industry is buoyant and is using ever more aluminium billet giving us the chance to produce a quality product making use of primary metal from the smelter and recycled scrap. There will be opportunities for local firms to be involved in the construction of the new facilities and new job opportunities for local people.”