Investment renaissance on resurgent manufacturing site

The revival of one of the UK's most important manufacturing sites is good news for jobs and the economy of the North-East and the nation.

The revival of one of the UK's most important manufacturing sites is good news for jobs and the economy of the North-East and the nation. The Wilton International site on Teesside has enjoyed a complete reversal in its fortunes since the beginning of the decade.

With four major construction projects announced in the last four years and others in the pipeline, hundreds of additional new jobs are now on the horizon.

The investment renaissance means the future now looks bright for Wilton International - widely regarded as one of the UK's premier manufacturing locations.

Between Middlesbrough and Redcar, the site is today home to eight world-scale international chemical and manufacturing companies, each with turnovers equivalent to multi-millions of pounds.

With `natural' advantages such as easily available raw materials and feedstocks, excellent communications for importing and exporting goods and a highly integrated pipeline infrastructure, Wilton International has major strengths compared to a number of competitor sites elsewhere in Europe - allowing existing companies and new investors to keep production costs down and maintain competitiveness in a global market.

SembCorp Utilities UK supplies key utilities and services on the near-2,000 acre site and also owns around 300 acres of development land, which it is actively marketing to investors.

The Singaporean-owned company has been delighted with the recent upsurge in interest in the site, which has seen almost a billion pounds of investment committed to the construction of new assets in recent years.

And a new green theme is clearly emerging with the announcement by biofuels producer, Ensus, to invest around £250m in a new bioethanol plant. This will complement SembCorp's own £60m investment in renewable energy via the Wilton 10 biomass power station, which will be fully operational soon.

However, the position was very different just six years ago. In 2001 confidence was in short supply when three major companies - BP, Basell and INEOS Chlor - all announced within months of each other that they were to exit the site for unrelated business reasons.

Later in the same year, the American energy giant Enron, the then owner of the utilities and services business at the site, collapsed.

"The future looked decidedly uncertain," said Alex Dickinson, vice president in charge of site development.

"However, through excellent management the business continued to meet all of its customers' needs during this period."

Acquisition of the business by SembCorp in April 2003 gave the company the existing site powerhouse - Wilton Power Station - and many of the essential services including the all-important Protection team which provides a fully integrated emergency response service to site companies and clients further afield. SembCorp also led by example and gave fresh impetus to the drive to bring new industrial development to the site.

Since then, investments have followed and the site is now burgeoning.

2003 - SembCorp Utilities UK announces it is to build a £20m combined heat and power unit at Wilton Power Station embracing a gas turbine and heat recovery steam generator - the first major investment at the station for 16 years.

2004 - American chemical giant Huntsman announces it is to construct a £200m Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE) plant. The plant is part of a business now owned by major Saudi petrochemicals firm SABIC, and will create a downstream customer for much of the ethylene made at the nearby SABIC-owned Cracker plant - central to site operations at Wilton International. Currently under construction, the new LDPE plant will eventually create 117 permanent new jobs and sustain hundreds of others in construction, supply and related manufacturing operations.

2005 - SembCorp Utilities UK announces it is to build a £60m biomass power station - Wilton 10 - using wood as its renewable fuel source. UK Wood Recycling announces it is to build a £4 million wood recycling facility on site to supply up to 80,000 tonnes of recycled wood per year to the SembCorp facility.

2006 -Ecco Newsprint Limited announces an intention to build a £275m paper mill on the site and gains planning permission from Redcar and Cleveland Council. Hopes are high that the development will proceed this year, creating 170 permanent jobs and sustaining up to 1,000 other supplier jobs.

2007 - Biofuels firm Ensus announces it is to build a £250m bioethanol plant at Wilton using wheat as its feedstock, creating 100 new jobs and sustaining around 1,500 in farming alone.

Several of these announcements are of major significance for the UK as well as for the companies involved.

For example, the SABIC polyethylene plant will make the UK a net exporter of low density polyethylene bringing in vital export revenue and the Ensus plant will supply around a third of the UK's green petrol needs by 2010.

"When you look at UK manufacturing it's clear that what we have here represents a major success story and something of which the North-East region and indeed the entire nation can be proud" added Mr Dickinson.


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer