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UK public inquiry threat to Quinn glass plant

In a surprise move, the UK government has decided to hold a public inquiry into a GBP 250 million glass container plant three months before it is due to start production.
The last-minute decision to …

In a surprise move, the UK government has decided to hold a public inquiry into a GBP 250 million glass container plant three months before it is due to start production. The last-minute decision to call in a planning application by Irish businessman Sean Quinn for a bottle manufacturing plant in Cheshire follows a concerted campaign by Rockware Glass, one of the UK“s main three glass bottle makers, to block the development. Building work on the Quinn Glass plant, on an 83 hectare site of a former power station at Elton, north of Chester, northwest England is almost complete; production at the plant, which is expected to employ 550, had been set to start by the end of June 2005. The public inquiry could delay this by up to two years. Denis MacShane, Labour MP for Rotherham and the minister for Europe, is one of several Labour MPs from the Yorkshire region of northern England who have been lobbying the government to call in Quinn“s application after Rockware commissioned research warning that up to 1,000 jobs could be lost in the Yorkshire glass industry if the plant opened. Quinn“s decision to locate its plant in Cheshire, rather than northern France, was regarded as an inward investment success for the North West Development Agency, which is providing GBP 4.9 million of support, and the Department of Trade and Industry, which is providing regional selective assistance. Andrew Miller, Labour MP for Ellesmere Port and Neston, believes the government has given in to pressure from its Yorkshire MPs who are worried about possible job losses in an election year. The government has refused to give further details on its reasons other than to say that Quinn“s proposals “may have important wider implications”. However, Mr Miller says Keith Hill, the planning minister, was “fundamentally wrong” to order a public inquiry. The Quinn proposal could only have national implications on competition grounds and not on planning grounds “because all of the regulations governing the environment and the supply chain have been met”, said Mr Miller. Rockware, which has four plants in the UK, contends that such a large increase in capacity in a mature market already hit by overcapacity and growing import competition will lead to big job losses in Yorkshire, which accounts for nearly three-quarters of the UK“s output of more than 7 billion bottles a year. Planing permission for the plant was originally granted in October 2003. Quinn Glass submitted a revised plan in June 2004 that sought to increase its size by 25% to 139,000 square meters, with the number of production lines rising from eight to 13, and a change in the type of furnace. Rockware responded to the new application by requesting the calling in of Quinn“s proposals on the grounds that they were of more than local significance due to economic and environmental issues. Rockware argues that the new plant will be “seriously in breach” of the European Union“s Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) regulations, and Chester city council was wrong to grant an IPPC licence to a plant “without planning permission which will flagrantly breach the government“s IPPC guidance”. Mr Miller maintains that the row has nothing to do with environmental issues. “If British business does not face up to the realities of modern competition, it will not survive.”

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