THE West of Scotland was on the brink of losing another industrial

landmark last night with Tate & Lyle announcing a proposal to shut its

sugar refinery at Greenock.

Its likely closure, in 1997, will mean redundancy for almost 170

workers and the end of Greenock as the town of ''sugar and ships''.

If Tate & Lyle ratifies plans to transfer production to its factory in

London, the only other sugar refinery in Britain, a 250-year tradition

at the UK birthplace of sugar refining will end.

Shipbuilding has long since ceased to be a feature of the Greenock

docks, although Ferguson's yard at Port Glasgow nearby has been

relatively successful in recent years.

Tate & Lyle blamed yesterday's announcement on the need to cut

operating costs, under pressure from refining competitors in Europe, and

from British Sugar, which processes sugar beet.

It said expansion at the Thames plant would require investment of #8m,

against #15m at Greenock, and said the proposed rationalisation would

save a further #3m in annual expenditure.

Mr John Walker, managing director of Tate & Lyle Sugars, said in a

statement: ''I deeply regret the distress and anxiety this will cause

our employees and their families. We have begun full consultation and

will take a final decision only when this process is concluded.''

The company, which was part-founded by the Lyle family early this

century, closed its Walker refinery in Greenock in 1979, leaving only

the Westburn refinery in production. Acquired by the firm in 1976, the

latter will celebrate a century of near-continuous operation next year.

Tate & Lyle said that, even if it closed the refinery, its United

Molasses import and distribution terminal, which employs nine people in

the town, would remain.

Ms Patricia Jamieson, raw sugar divisional director, admitted that the

announcement had caused ''shock and distress'' among the workforce but

said an exhaustive review by the company had identified no viable

options other than closure.

If that decision was finalised, she said, staff would be offered

''generous'' redundancy payments of four times the statutory minimum,

and opportunities for vocational retraining.

However, the news received a predictably angry response. MEP Hugh

McMahon said he was ''absolutely incensed'' at the decision which, he

forecast, would also undermine employment for hundreds of associated

workers in Greenock.

''Tate & Lyle has taken good profits from the people of the town over

many years but it is now behaving like a typical multinational company.

This will have a knock-on effect in the local food and drinks


The leader of Inverclyde district, Councillor Harry Mulholland, said:

''It's devastating and we are extremely disappointed, especially at a

time when we have been working hard to attract other companies to the


Mr Jim Elsby, Scottish secretary designate of the TGWU, which

represents most of the Greenock workforce, said the union would be

examining the company's financial figures and hoped to mount a campaign

to overturn the proposal.