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4,000 new jobs coming to south west

Wednesday, 28 February 2024 15:06

By Daniel Mumby, local democracy reporter

Gravity Smart Campus (image courtesy: Gravity)

EV battery plant confirmed for Bridgwater

Up to 4,000 new jobs will be coming to Somerset after the creation of a new ‘gigafactory’ near Bridgwater was officially confirmed.

The government tentatively announced in July 2023 – on the eve of the Somerton and Frome by-election – that Tata, the parent company of Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), would be building a new electric vehicle battery ‘gigafactory’ on the Gravity site near junction 23 of the M5.

Since this date, there have been few further announcements surrounding the future of the Gravity Enterprise Zone, which comprises 616 acres on the former Royal Ordnance factory site in Puriton.

Now Agratas, which is part of the Tata, has officially announced it will be building its new gigafactory in Somerset, creating thousands of jobs and potentially making Somerset the UK’s biggest producer of electric vehicle batteries.

The announcement was confirmed early on Wednesday morning (February 28), with Agratas confirming that the factory would create up to 4,000 new jobs, with many more being created in the various supply chains associated with the site.

Somerset Council leader Bill Revans said:”This is momentous for the county, its economy and for future generations.

“It’s about seizing an incredible opportunity to be at the heart of the UK’s green energy industry that will create thousands of highly-skilled, well-paid, green jobs.

“Agratas’ huge investment in the county has the potential to transform the local and regional economy.”

Sedgemoor District Council was instrumental in working with This Is Gravity to bring the site forward for commercial development, creating a local development order (LDO) for the site to allow construction of new commercial premises to proceed at a faster pace.

Before its abolition in April 2023, It also oversaw the construction of a £10.3m access road, funded by the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership, to directly link the Gravity site to the A39 Bath Road towards the M5.

Mr Revans – a former Sedgemoor district councillor – said Somerset was well-prepared for this scale of investment, given its ongoing experience with the construction of the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station.

He said: “Together with Hinkley Point C and businesses like Leonardo, it shows that modern Somerset is leading the way in exciting, high-tech industry and puts us firmly on the international trade map.

“We are committed to making this work for Somerset, its residents and our business community.

“We know how to deliver significant projects and work with communities to maximise the benefits of investment into our county.”

Agratas will invest £4bn in the new gigafactory, which will take up around half of the total land within the Gravity site.

The remaining 50 per cent will remain in the ownership of This Is Gravity Ltd., which will continue to promote to other related industries.

This Is Gravity co-founders Martin Bellamy and Tom Curtis said: “It’s impossible to overstate how important this is for the UK. It is the catalyst to kick-start the electric vehicle revolution in the UK.

“As the biggest battery gigafactory in the UK, and one of the largest in
Europe, its transformational impact will be enormous.

“We look forward to working closely with Agratas, Somerset Council,
Bridgwater & Taunton College and wider stakeholders to deliver this
gigafactory as part of the Gravity Smart Campus.”

Thousands of residents living near the site of the future gigafactory campus will receive leaflets through the post in the coming days, laying out Agratas’ proposals for the site.

Agratas CEO Tom Flack said: “Our multi-billion-pound investment will bring state-of-the-art technology to Somerset, helping to supercharge Britain’s transition to electric mobility while creating thousands of jobs in the process.

“We care deeply about the communities we operate in, so it’s imperative to us that we work with, and listen to, our new neighbours as we build our factory in Somerset.

“That’s why we’ll be holding an event for local residents very soon, so we can share more about our plans and introduce our team to the community.”

Preliminary works on the site are in progress, with piling to establish the factory’s foundations due to begin in the spring.

The new gigafactory will be constructed in phases, with battery production set to begin in 2026.

The factory will eventually produce 40GWh of battery cells annually – enough to supply approximately 500,000 passenger vehicles.

Once fully operational, the factory is set to be Britain’s biggest battery factory, and one of the largest in Europe.

Councillor Ros Wyke, portfolio holder for economic development, planning and assets, said: “This a very important day for the British car industry and our vision for Somerset. This puts Somerset on the map and sets out a bright future for our residents..

“This investment will create thousands of skilled jobs in the green power industry that will bring a myriad of economic benefits to the county.

“We and Agratas will be working with local colleges to deliver the comprehensive workforce and skills solution, including strategic links to other training and academic institutions, to help deliver the specialist skills needed for this project, and to maximise the opportunities for local people and businesses.”

Councillor Leigh Redman, who leads the Labour opposition group on Somerset Council, has welcomed the news, stating: “Somerset Labour is over the moon following the announcement of the gigafactory sited in the heart of our county.

“We fully support the proposed investment in Somerset and see it as a long-term benefit for every corner of our community.

“This investment at Gravity will create a significant number of long-term, high-value, well-paid jobs for local people to access, at the same time helping continue the education opportunities that started with Hinkley Point C, giving local people of every age further opportunities to learn or reskill, we lose too many young people who are forced to move away to learn, often resulting in them staying away to work.

“We need to better understand the business rate retention mechanism  and funding options, particularly in the current financial situation in which Somerset Council finds itself, that forms part of the agreement.

“We look forward to working with Agratas, partners and officers on this exciting project.”

Councillor Claire Sully, the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for the new Bridgwater constituency, added: “The investment from Agratas in Gravity is a real coup for Bridgwater and its surrounding areas.

“My priority now, and if elected as the MP for Bridgwater, is to ensure that these benefits to local communities are maximised.

“I want people to be a part of this project and understand how it can enable them to flourish.

“At Somerset Council we are serious about investing in the future of Somerset. Having delivered a balanced budget we are now drawing in investment to the area and unleashing the huge potential of Somerset.”

Ashley Fox, the Conservatives’ parliamentary candidate for Bridgwater, added: “It is excellent news that Agratas has confirmed that the Bridgwater Gravity Smart Campus will be the site of their new £4bn gigafactory, which will bring huge investment and opportunities for growth to our area.

“I am committed to bringing more investment to Bridgwater and Burnham and will campaign hard to convince other businesses like Tata and Morrisons to expand their operations in our area.

“The Labour Party doesn’t have a plan to create jobs and grow our economy. I’m proud that our Conservative government has brought record investment to Bridgwater and the whole of the south west.”

Over the next five years, the council plans to invest in the infrastructure, skills, site access and connectivity needed to make sure Somerset benefits as much as possible from Agratas’ investment.

This investment will be paid for by the business rates generated by the factory once it is operational.

The council and central government are finalising an ‘in principle’ agreement for support, which will enable this massive long-term economic boost to Somerset to happen without extra cost to the council, and with no negative impact on the council and its finances.

These proposals will be debated by the council’s corporate and resources scrutiny committee on March 7 before coming before the executive committee for approval on March 12 – with further financial decisions on the level of investment to be put before the full council later in the year.

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