Michelin's Ballymena site to be transformed into 'enterprise park'
The Michelin tyre factory in Ballymena will be turned into a business park in a multi-million pound deal which, it is claimed, could bring hundreds of jobs to the area.
Michelin's Raceview Road facility has been sold to business park developer Silverwood, which intends to develop an "enterprise park" there, made up of manufacturing, office and warehouse space. The site sold for an undisclosed sum, thought to be millions of pounds.
The news comes more than two years after Michelin announced the closure of the premises, citing a "significant downturn" in the demand for truck tyres in Europe.
At the time of the closure, 840 employees worked at the factory. Yesterday, the French firm said 449 have already found new employment, been relocated to other Michelin sites or retired.
Michelin said there are now 391 workers on site, with 191 actively looking for work and 200 who have a plan for finding new jobs. Production will stop next month.
The company has also established a £5m 'legacy fund' to support future employment and fund potential start-ups by former employees.
Michelin factory manager John Milsted said the firm wanted to leave a legacy that would benefit the area.
"We started making tyres in Ballymena almost half a century ago and we are incredibly grateful to our employees and the community for all their support over the years," he said.
"We have always tried to mirror that support and we have no intention of stopping now.
"Over the last two years it has been my absolute priority to help colleagues find the best possible outcomes and we have been extremely successful in finding around 700 employees rewarding alternatives to life at Michelin in Ballymena," he said.
North Antrim DUP MP Ian Paisley said Michelin could have simply "shut up shop" and left the area, but that they realised they had "a duty of care" to ensure "a bad situation was not made much worse".
"What was so compelling about the Silverwood offer was that they wanted to develop the site, not raze it or sell it off for parts," he said.
"It is very much a phoenix rising from what could have been the ashes.
"This also sends the clear message that Ballymena is open for business.
"When we received the news [of the Michelin closure] in 2015, we didn't resign ourselves to defeat. Ballymena pulled itself up by the bootstraps and got back to work."
Michelin will close its factory in June, with the official handover to Silverwood, which operates the Silverwood Business Park in Craigavon, in September.
Ten acres of the Raceview Road site will also go to Mid and East Antrim Council, which will use the land "to bolster the area's bid to host a Heathrow Logistics Hub" by creating a "centre for manufacturing excellence".
Heathrow intends establishing a number of UK regional hubs to support construction work on its proposed third runway expansion, and six locations in Northern Ireland are under consideration.
JTI Gallaher, another former manufacturing giant in Ballymena, has also closed down. Its site has been sold to Ballymena bus manufacturer Wrights Group.