Queen's property empire leads race to buy Rio Tinto Alcan

The Crown Estate have launched a £20m bid to take control of land linked to the mothballed aluminium smelter in Northumberland

Nelson Allan

The Queen’s property company is leading a £20m race to take control of land linked to a mothballed aluminium smelter in Northumberland, The Journal can reveal.

Rio Tinto Alcan’s site at Lynemouth ceased operating last year in a move which saw 515 workers lose their jobs. Now it has emerged the Queen’s commercial property business has launched a bid to take control of the site.

A spokesman for the Crown Estate - which claims to be “a key player in supporting the delivery of a diverse and secure energy supply for the UK” - declined to comment.

However, it is understood the organisation is in pole position to purchase 5,000 acres of farmland located near to the Lynemouth smelter. Farms, residential properties, development opportunities, an operational 13-turbine wind farm and strategic mineral assets at the site of the former Alcan Lynemouth smelter were put up for grabs earlier this year. At the time bosses at Alcan - who last night declined to comment on “speculation or rumour” - said they hoped a deal could be agreed which would see the property portfolio transferred to “a responsible purchaser with long-term plans that will benefit the communities of Northumberland”.

A source close to the deal said: “The Crown Estate have a reputation in the renewable energy sector so the site is suited to their current operations.”

The land has been managed as part of the Alcan Farms business since 1973.

It was originally purchased by the company to support operations at the smelter.

Meanwhile staff from the Port of Blyth have won a contract to operate a ship terminal on site. The terminal was maintained following the closure of the Lynemouth plant to import reduced quantities of raw materials and fuel which are then taken by train to the company’s Scottish smelter in Fort William.

A spokesman for the Port of Blyth said: “We are operating the ship terminal on Rio Tinto’s behalf. We will continue to do so and co-operate with them if any port facilities are required.”

Last year the Crown Estate boosted its £1.5bn portfolio outside London by purchasing the Gate Leisure Centre in Newcastle in a £60m deal.

It bought the popular centre, which includes a cinema, bars and restaurants, from London property company Delancey.

Rio Tinto’s Lynemouth site became operational in 1974 at a cost of £54m, two years after the company had commissioned its nearby Lynemouth power station, to supply electricity to run the smelter.

The Lynemouth area was chosen by Canadian aluminium company Alcan, part of Rio Tinto, because of the ready availability of coal.

Another factor was finding a labour force.

Many coal mines in the area had shut down, leaving thousands of people there unemployed. The workforce in the local area was used to heavy work because of finding employment in the mines.

The Government also granted £28m to the company to help reduce unemployment in the area.

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