Thursday, January 10, 2002

Hundreds of BNFL white-collar workers could be moved off the Sellafield site and re-located in some of West Cumbria's empty factories, shops and offices.

The threat of a possible future terrorist attack has added weight to proposals for drastically reducing the number of people based on the nuclear site. It is felt that electronic technology means that many jobs could be done just as effectively away from the site.

The leaders of Copeland and Allerdale Councils, who have been involved in private discussions with BNFL, see positive benefits from the proposal and are already drawing up lists of redundant properties in their respective areas. BNFL yesterday confirmed the discussions but declined to go into any details.

Staff unions have heard rumours that up to 2,000 employees could be affected. Paul Croft, head of site services at Sellafield, confirmed to the unions that there was a strategy which involved off-site options.

BNFL yesterday made a guarded official response: "We regularly review our needs for staff accommodation. We are currently in discussion with Copeland Council to identify facilities off-site with the potential to match our needs. We do not have any firm plans to move staff. At this stage we are simply looking at accommodation requirements and the options for meeting those requirements."

Leading councillors, who have been involved in the discussions, predict that an influx of new spending power will revitalise town centres in both Copeland and Allerdale.

Big reductions in the numbers working at Sellafield would alleviate traffic congestion stretching all the way from Allerdale as well as making it easier to evacuate in the event of an emergency situation.

Copeland council leader Robin Simpson confirmed that along with two other members of Copeland Council's Executive - Geoff Blackwell and Henry Wormstrup - he has had preliminary talks with Sellafield's boss Brian Watson and Mr Croft. Allerdale leader Mark Fryer and Copeland's general manager John Stanforth have also been in on the talks.

"We heard rumours and asked for a meeting," said Coun Simpson. "As a result of which we are putting together a portfolio together of all the empty properties in the area so that we can present them to BNFL. We think it would help with the revitalisation of our towns like Cleator Moor, Egremont and possibly Millom.

"It could have positive benefits for shops and businesses to perk up their trade. A lot of good can come of it. There are positive options like using the old Cleator Moor Co-op building on Cleator Moor Square and empty factory units in places like Egremont and Moresby Parks. There is also potential with the expansion at Westlakes to where Sellafield has already moved its finance and purchasing departments but I would not like to see too much going there because Westlakes has to be seen to be more free-standing."

nThe Kangol factory due for closure at Frizington might be on the Copeland accommodation list but Robin Simpson ruled out speculation of Whitehaven's 6 million, 700-job call centre being included. "I still think Vertex will move in possibly April or May and in any case for BNFL to move in would have an adverse effect."