October 3, 2019 @ 16:16 by Steven Hugill
More than 200 Teesside chemical plant workers face uncertainty after an operator revealed potential closure plans.
Ineos is reviewing the future of its acrylonitrile manufacturing base, which employs 224 staff at Seal Sands, near Billingham.
The company says the plant needs a €200 million (£177 million) cash injection to meet safety and environmental regulations, despite the business having spent almost the same amount over the last ten years to “try to counter decades of significant under investment.”
Bosses, who say they are acting “with a heavy heart”, are now consulting with workers on the site’s future, revealing they believe “nothing more can be done to ensure operations are both safe and economically viable.”
However, they say they are willing to assess possible alternatives to a closure of the facility, which Ineos has owned since 2008.
They also added not all of the factory’s 224-strong workforce would be at risk of redundancy if the plant was shut down, since some staff would be retained to carry out roles across Ineos’ wider Seal Sands estate.
The plant’s acrylonitrile is the key ingredient for acrylic fibres used to make clothing and carpets, ABS plastics for automotive components, telephone and computer casings and carbon fibre used across the aerospace, automotive and sporting industries, as well as in windmill blades.
However, Paul Overment, chief executive of Ineos’ Nitriles business, within which the Seal Sands plant operates, said the company has been left with little alternative to a potential shutdown.
He added its situation should be a lesson for other operators to ensure regular investment in facilities.
He said: “After considering many options, we feel we must now consult with employees on the potential closure of the plant.
“We do so with a heavy heart but there is no escaping the fact that decades of under-investment on the site have led us to this point.
“Manufacturing assets need constant renewal if they are to survive.
“The last ten years have proven that it is almost impossible to play catch-up and the lesson for us and other UK manufacturers is that constant re-investment is vital for long-term prosperity.”
A spokesperson for Ineos, which says Seal Sands is capable of producing up to 300 kilotons of acrylonitrile per year, echoed the reluctance over a closure.
“Despite the company’s best efforts and the fact that every penny of profit has been ploughed back into the site to reverse this situation, the company is of the view that nothing more can be done to ensure that operations are both safe and economically viable,” said the spokesperson.
“The acrylonitrile process needs careful management and involves handling significant quantities of hazardous material.
“The company feels it would not be possible to guarantee the long-term safety of our employees or our neighbours through continued operation of the plant and have thus reluctantly concluded that we should consider the option to close.”
Alongside its Seal Sands operation, Ineos runs a plant at Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, which makes PVC grades.
Bosses say they believe one in every three UK households will have PVC windows produced using material made at its Aycliffe site.