A COUNCIL has given permission for a new alloy wheel factory which is expected to employ 400 workers in the Highlands.

The GFG Alliance has welcomed Highland Council's decision to grant full planning permission for the factory next to its Liberty British Aluminium smelter at Fort William.

The consent, clears the way for the company to develop the UK's only large scale alloy wheel plant, with work expected to start on site later this year.

As part of a £120 million investment, the new plant will use aluminium from the smelter to make up to two million wheels a year for the British car industry.

Sanjeev Gupta, executive chairman of the GFG Alliance which includes Liberty British Aluminium, said: "We are delighted to have reached this milestone in the development of a very exciting project and are very grateful to the council for giving this matter their close attention over recent months.

"We also appreciate very much, the valuable input of the many statutory bodies, other organisations and the local community, who have worked with us on the wide range of issues associated with this development, which will add major value to the Highland economy."

GFG envisages "hundreds more jobs" generated in businesses supplying the plant and in the wider Highland economy.

Kate Forbes, MSP for Lochaber, said she was "delighted" the authority had accepted the planning application She added: "The key here is not necessarily alloy wheels or aluminium smelting in and of itself, but instead the impact on the local economy.

"It's about the future of jobs, houses and training opportunities for local people, as well as attracting people to move to the area.

"Fort William has a history of peaks and troughs when it comes to the local economy due to an over reliance on one employer, such as the paper mill."

The proposals for the Liberty Aluminium Lochaber facility include redevelopment of part of a former brownfield site where a former carbon factory stood.

Lochaber Leader, Councillor Andrew Baxter added: "This is a once in a generation opportunity and Liberty Group should be applauded for this contribution to the economy and community.

"Up to 400 direct jobs will be created at the facility which will also help secure the existing 170 jobs at the smelter. "