LOCHABER is at the centre of a bright new industrial future for the Highlands today after a £330 million deal was concluded to buy Britain’s last remaining aluminium smelter at Fort William, and its new owner announced a further £120m of investment.

The deal – by GFG Alliance companies Liberty House and SIMEC, and Rio Tinto – will see the British Aluminium name reborn as Liberty British Aluminium.

Liberty announced plans for further investment of £120m during a visit by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Fergus Ewing, the Rural Economy Secretary, to celebrate the Scottish Government-backed sale.

Sturgeon said it was a historic day for the UK’s only remaining aluminium smelter.

“GFG Alliance’s buyout of the complex will protect 170 existing jobs and with ambitious plans to invest in the site, expand operations and add value, we look forward to hundreds of new jobs being created in the coming years,” she said.

“The Scottish Government is supporting GFG by guaranteeing the power purchases of the aluminium smelter, which reinforces the essential link between the smelter and hydro station at Fort William and provides a firm foundation for GFG’s ambitious expansion plans.

“Today is the start of an exciting new chapter in Scotland’s manufacturing story and the Scottish Government and its agencies will keep working with Sanjeev Gupta and the GFG Alliance to help them realise their enterprising vision for Lochaber.”

The new investment will be used to upgrade equipment and establish an aluminium wheel manufacturing facility. The company hopes to generate up to 300 jobs directly and hundreds more in the supply chain.

Liberty said it aimed to protect the existing 170 jobs in Lochaber and progressively expand metal manufacturing and engineering, which should eventually bring up to 2,000 direct and supply-chain jobs to the heart of the Highlands, and add about £1 billion to the local economy over the next decade.

As well as the smelter and the hydro plant at Kinlochleven, the sale includes more than 100,000 acres of estate land, which hosts the water catchment area including the foothills of Ben Nevis.

Liberty British Aluminium hopes to add substantial extra value to the production of aluminium by integrating the smelter with a new engineering and downstream manufacturing facility.

Sanjeev Gupta, executive chairman of Liberty House Group and the GFG Alliance strategic board, said: “We hope this day will come to be recognised as the start of a bright new future for Highland industry.

“It puts Lochaber right at the heart of our vision for sustainable and integrated local production that can revitalise British manufacturing. The Scottish Government has recognised the immense opportunity this investment brings. Their support has been refreshing and inspiring.”

SIMEC will operate the hydro plants within its growing UK portfolio of renewable power assets. A key customer for SIMEC Lochaber Hydro will be the smelter, which is an intensive user of electricity to process alumina into aluminium.

This is one of the largest single investments made by the global GFG Alliance businesses. It marks a major step in its plan to forge a competitive, sustainable metals and engineering sector in the UK by integrating the supply chain and powering the industries with SIMEC’s renewable energy production.

GFG Alliance sees the Lochaber aluminium operation as fitting strongly into Liberty’s growing focus on the automotive industry. Liberty is already a major components vendor to top UK vehicle manufacturers and is rapidly expanding its capabilities.

Jay Hambro, chief investment officer of the GFG Alliance, added: “These hydro-power stations have enough capacity to power around 83,000 homes. Today Lochaber provides the power required to produce 47,000 tonnes of aluminium. We have already identified investment programmes to significantly increase power generation from the existing assets and are studying how to create further capacity locally.”

The purchase of Lochaber is a major escalation of the GFG Alliance’s investment in Scotland, following Liberty’s acquisition of the Dalzell and Clydebridge Steel plants earlier this year.

Dalzell formally restarted in September after being mothballed by its previous owners.