Building £100m Ebbw Vale automotive park to start by March

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Ebbw ValeImage source, Getty Images
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Wages in Ebbw Vale are below the Welsh average

Building work will start on a new £100m automotive business park in Ebbw Vale by the end of the financial year, the economy secretary has pledged.

Ken Skates also rejected the suggestion the idea had been "written on the back of a fag packet".

He said it was being designed with investors, the local enterprise zone board and skills providers.

Mr Skates wants plans to go forward for a first building in the cluster in the autumn.

The automotive park project, which has an ambition to create 1,500 jobs, was announced when Mr Skates rejected support for the £433m Circuit of Wales last month.

Land is currently being identified for the park, which would develop automotive businesses with £10m a year over 10 years.

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Ken Skates said the aim was for shovels in the ground by next March

Mr Skates expects "shovels in the ground" by next March.

A cluster of automotive businesses had already been part of the Circuit of Wales plans.

"This is based on extensive research and expertise," Mr Skates told BBC Wales.

"It's being designed with stake-holders. This isn't just a case of 'build units and they'll come'.

"It's been informed by the likes of the enterprise zone board, by skills providers in the area, by existing companies and by investors into Wales.

"There is already a strong automotive manufacturing base within the region but what we want to do is make sure that is built upon and in a way that meets the demands of emerging technology and greener growth."

The first meeting was held to discuss the development last week. Business figures attending included TVR - which has already announced 150 jobs - Ford, IQE and General Dynamics.


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If plans to mass produce the hydrogen car come to fruition, Ebbw Vale would be an attractive potential location

Riversimple is developing hydrogen cell cars in Llandrindod Wells.

It will be producing an initial run of 20 cars to try out with the public before eventually looking at full scale production with 5,000 cars in 2019.

That might make Ebbw Vale - 45 miles (72km) away- an attractive location, especially with the better road infrastructure to link up with suppliers.

Riversimple plans to rent its vehicles out, with all the maintenance and fuel provided by the firm, which it says will be an "innovative business model alongside an innovative car".

Programme manager Robert Cumming said the car industry is already adapting to new technologies and the development of electric cars but hydrogen cars are something different again.

"There are other elements of these vehicles in their construction which require different skills, so not all the skill sets will necessarily be there," he said.

"But it's an opportunity for us to train and teach people and bring new skills to the area - composites and materials technology.

"Being at the forefront of that can only be a good thing. Wales can be at the driving seat rather than waiting for the technology to come to it."

On the idea of an automotive technology park in Ebbw Vale, Mr Cumming said: "There's a great history of motoring in Wales - so this would be a dedicated park bringing these different skill sets in.

"It's difficult finding specialist companies we need, they're dotted around the UK. Having them on our doorstep would be absolutely fantastic."

Image source, Blaenau Gwent Learning Zone
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Students will be building a car on Blaenau Gwent Learning Zone's motorsport engineering course from September

The Welsh Government is being urged to tackle a shortage of skills in order to attract companies to the new development.

A separate business case is also being worked on for a skills academy.

Blaenau Gwent Learning Zone in Ebbw Vale is running courses to train people for the skills required for the automotive industry but it raises concerns that there is already a skills shortage with local companies, which will need to be improved to attract more businesses.

Ebbw Vale's enterprise zone has only created 179 jobs in seven years.

But Mr Skates said the automotive park would "meet head-on" the challenge of providing space, which would make a massive different to the enterprise zone.