COMPANY managers planning to build Britain’s only large alloy wheel factory in Fort William have received “very encouraging” responses from UK car manufacturers eager to source products closer to home.

Senior Liberty bosses reported this week that they were looking forward to constructing the 400-worker plant next to their aluminium smelter in a bid to win back market share from overseas producers.

They have held extensive talks with vehicle manufacturers since the plans were announced.

Brian King, director of Lochaber operations for Sanjeev Gupta’s GFG Alliance, which includes the Fort William smelter and planned wheels factory, said: “We’ve been very encouraged by the reaction from the motor industry.

“They’ve recognised straight away how beneficial it will be for such a major component for their manufacturing process to be made in the UK.

“At present, almost all of the eight million alloy wheels used in British-made cars come from abroad. That’s going to change, and Scotland will be the flag-bearer for that change.”

His comments came as part of a progress report on the development of the wheels plant which showed that initial clearance work on the site has commenced to prepare for construction, and a range of specialist consultants – including environmental experts – are helping Liberty address the requirements of various conditions associated with the detailed planning permission granted by the Highland Council.

King said the response from the motor manufacturers had encouraged the company to consider an option to alter the design of the building, so it could be adapted in the future to increase production capacity, if market demand warranted it.

“We’re looking at the possibility of future-proofing the plant at the outset to ensure its long-term sustainability,” he said.

“That would save time and money further down the line if we need to increase capacity.

“We’ll be discussing this with local communities and Highland Council officials as part of our unfolding preparations to build the factory.”

King added that the long-term aim is to optimise the value of the smelter and hydro power assets to the area and to create more jobs by turning all of the locally-produced aluminium into alloy wheels on site.

The current design allows for a factory that would use only half of the aluminium produced by the Fort William smelter, with the rest being sold to other factories around the UK.

He said the initial members of the wheels factory construction project team are preparing to move into the specially-erected temporary offices on site at Fort William and more staff will join them in the coming months.

GFG has also been working closely with Scottish Government and local agencies for more than a year to identify required improvements to local services and infrastructure to support the creation of the factory.

The new Fort William plant is set to become a showcase within Liberty’s growing worldwide automotive industry footprint.

In addition to its factories in England and France, the company is also in the process of acquiring major vehicle component plants in India, Japan, Thailand and Spain.

King said: “We’re expanding our global automotive business, and Fort William will be one of the flagship plants in that business.”