Five questions answered on Grangemouth petrochemical plant closure

What has the government's response been?

Owners Ineos announced this morning that the petrochemical plant at the Grangemouth complex in Scotland will close.  We answer five questions on the closure.

Why is the plant closing?

Ineos made the announcement following a meeting with the workforce at the plant and its associated oil refinery this morning.

The decision comes after a long dispute between workers and management. The company had said if the workforce rejected new proposed changes to pay and pensions the plant would close.

Staff rejected both proposals to freeze pay for three years and to reduce pensions.

In a statement the company said:

"The company made it clear that rejection of change would result in closure. Regrettably, the union advised union members to reject any form of change.”

The outcome of the employee vote on the company's survival plan was a 50/50 split.

How many people work at the plant?

About 800 people are employed at the petrochemical plant, as well as other sub-contractors.

What else have Ineos said?

The company statement goes onto say:

"The shareholders met yesterday to consider the future of the business following the result of the employee vote.

"Sadly, the shareholders reached the conclusion that they could not see a future for Grangemouth without change and therefore could no longer continue to fund the business".

 "As a result of this decision, the directors of the petrochemicals business have had no option but to engage the services of a liquidator. It is anticipated that a liquidation process will commence in a week."

What has the government said?

Nothing official as yet. Ministers, including the Scotland Secretary Alistair Carmichael and the Energy Secretary Ed Davey, are meeting in London to decide on a response to the decision.

Labour's Shadow Energy Secretary, Caroline Flint, has requested an Urgent Question on the Government's contingency planning regarding Grangemouth Refinery.

What financial problems has Grangemouth faced?

According to Ineos the plant, which has been shut for a week due to the ongoing dispute, is losing £10m a month.

It had said it was ready to invest £300m in Grangemouth, but only if workers agree to the new terms and conditions.

The Scottish government said at the beginning of the week it had been trying to find a buyer for the site. 

The Grangemouth Oil Refinery in March, 2012, in Grangemouth, Scotland. Photograph: Getty Images.

Heidi Vella is a features writer for Nridigital.com

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The tale of Battersea power station shows how affordable housing is lost

Initially, the developers promised 636 affordable homes. Now, they have reduced the number to 386. 

It’s the most predictable trick in the big book of property development. A developer signs an agreement with a local council promising to provide a barely acceptable level of barely affordable housing, then slashes these commitments at the first, second and third signs of trouble. It’s happened all over the country, from Hastings to Cumbria. But it happens most often in London, and most recently of all at Battersea power station, the Thames landmark and long-time London ruin which I wrote about in my 2016 book, Up In Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station. For decades, the power station was one of London’s most popular buildings but now it represents some of the most depressing aspects of the capital’s attempts at regeneration. Almost in shame, the building itself has started to disappear from view behind a curtain of ugly gold-and-glass apartments aimed squarely at the international rich. The Battersea power station development is costing around £9bn. There will be around 4,200 flats, an office for Apple and a new Tube station. But only 386 of the new flats will be considered affordable

What makes the Battersea power station development worse is the developer’s argument for why there are so few affordable homes, which runs something like this. The bottom is falling out of the luxury homes market because too many are being built, which means developers can no longer afford to build the sort of homes that people actually want. It’s yet another sign of the failure of the housing market to provide what is most needed. But it also highlights the delusion of politicians who still seem to believe that property developers are going to provide the answers to one of the most pressing problems in politics.

A Malaysian consortium acquired Battersea power station in 2012. Initially, it promised to build 636 affordable units. This was pretty meagre, but with four developers already having failed to develop the site, it was still enough for Wandsworth council to give planning consent. By the time I wrote Up In Smoke, this had been reduced to 565 units – around 15 per cent of the total number of new flats. Now the developers want to build only 386 affordable homes – around 9 per cent of the final residential offering, which includes expensive flats bought by the likes of Sting and Bear Grylls.

The developers say this is because of escalating costs and the technical challenges of restoring the power station – but it’s also the case that the entire Nine Elms area between Battersea and Vauxhall is experiencing a glut of similar property, which is driving down prices. They want to focus instead on paying for the new Northern Line extension that joins the power station to Kennington. The slashing of affordable housing can be done without need for a new planning application or public consultation by using a “deed of variation”. It also means Mayor Sadiq Khan can’t do much more than write to Wandsworth urging the council to reject the new scheme. There’s little chance of that. Conservative Wandsworth has been committed to a developer-led solution to the power station for three decades and in that time has perfected the art of rolling over, despite several excruciating, and occasionally hilarious, disappointments.

The Battersea power station situation also highlights the sophistry developers will use to excuse any decision. When I interviewed Rob Tincknell, the developer’s chief executive, in 2014, he boasted it was the developer’s commitment to paying for the Northern Line extension (NLE) that was allowing the already limited amount of affordable housing to be built in the first place. Without the NLE, he insisted, they would never be able to build this number of affordable units. “The important point to note is that the NLE project allows the development density in the district of Nine Elms to nearly double,” he said. “Therefore, without the NLE the density at Battersea would be about half and even if there was a higher level of affordable, say 30 per cent, it would be a percentage of a lower figure and therefore the city wouldn’t get any more affordable than they do now.”

Now the argument is reversed. Because the developer has to pay for the transport infrastructure, they can’t afford to build as much affordable housing. Smart hey?

It’s not entirely hopeless. Wandsworth may yet reject the plan, while the developers say they hope to restore the missing 250 units at the end of the build.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

This is a version of a blog post which originally appeared here.

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