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Appledore shipyard in Devon to close

Owner Babcock said it was a ‘difficult decision’ to make and the company is aiming to relocate workers.

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Babcock said in a statement it would end its site lease in March 2019 (Barry Batchelor/PA)

Babcock said in a statement it would end its site lease in March 2019 (Barry Batchelor/PA)

Babcock said in a statement it would end its site lease in March 2019 (Barry Batchelor/PA)

A historic shipyard is to close despite a campaign to win new work to keep it open.

Babcock International said it had taken the “difficult decision” to close its Appledore yard in Devon next year.

Focus is now firmly on its workforce and its determination to protect their employment within the businessBabcock

Thousands of people joined a march recently in support of the yard and signed a petition which was handed to the Government asking ministers to help.

Babcock said in a statement that it would end its site lease in March 2019.

“Babcock’s focus is now firmly on its workforce and its determination to protect their employment within the business.

“To that end, the company will offer relocation opportunities for all 199 Appledore employees at other Babcock facilities, 140 of whom are already on short-term redeployment to its Devonport operations.

“Babcock very much regrets having to take this course of action and recognises the impact it will have on its dedicated and professional workforce.

“The company will now engage in a consultation period, working closely with its employees and their trade union representatives during this difficult time.”

In 2017/18 Appledore generated around £24 million of the group’s total underlying revenue of £5.4 billion.

This news is a devastating blow to the workforce and the local communityJake McLean, GMB

The GMB union reacted with anger to the news, saying it was “devastating” for the workforce.

The union said 200 workers were set to lose their jobs when the yard closes, adding that the Government had offered a financial package to keep it open.

Jake McLean, the GMB’s official at Appledore, said: “This news is a devastating blow to the workforce and the local community.

“We want answers from the Government and Babcock about the package that was offered to save the yard.”

The yard is the last survivor of a centuries-old tradition of shipbuilding on the north Devon estuary where the Rivers Taw and Torridge meet the Bristol Channel.

Sailors from the village are said to have been among those who fought the Spanish Armada in 1588.

The yard dates back to 1855, remaining in family ownership for many years, specialising in tug-boats and fishing trawlers, and making a significant contribution to Britain’s war effort from 1939 to 1945.

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HMS Scott was built at Appledore (Royal Navy/PA)

HMS Scott was built at Appledore (Royal Navy/PA)

Press Association Images

HMS Scott was built at Appledore (Royal Navy/PA)

The yard was bought in 1964 by shipping and charter holiday airline company Court Line and was later taken into public ownership by the Labour government to form part of British Shipbuilders.

It was bought in 1989 by Langham Industries.

Appledore flourished during the 1990s and earned a reputation for building specialist survey vessels, such as HMS Scott, used by the Royal Navy to produce maps of the world’s oceans.

Vessels it has also built include dredgers and passenger ferries. However, orders dried up and the yard went into administration in 2003, with the entire 550-strong workforce made redundant.

In 2004 it was bought out of administration by DML, operator of Plymouth-based Devonport Royal Dockyard, which was itself bought by Babcock in 2007.

This shameful decision is a betrayal of a skilled loyal workforce and their community. It is a dark day for Appledore and UK shipbuildingSteve Turner, Unite

Unite union regional officer Heathcliffe Pettifer said: “The first reaction is one of dismay and anger that such a dedicated workforce at this historic shipyard should face such an uncertain future.

“We feel that the Government could have done much more to secure future work for Appledore and that Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson wrung his hands in true Pontius Pilate fashion when he said it was a commercial decision for the company.

“The impact on the Devon economy will be widespread, devastating and enduring with the yard closing. It is a hammer blow for the workforce and the West Country economy.”

Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said: “This shameful decision is a betrayal of a skilled loyal workforce and their community. It is a dark day for Appledore and UK shipbuilding.

“At a stroke, ministers could secure the future of Appledore by lifting the delay to contract the Type 31e frigate programme and guaranteeing that the Royal Navy’s new fleet solid-support vessels are designed and block-built in yards across the UK.

“A continued failure by ministers to intervene could lead to the loss of vital shipbuilding skills for a generation and leave a yawning capability gap in the UK’s shipbuilding industry.

“We urge Babcock to think again and for the Ministry of Defence to drop its ideological obsession with international competition and build support vessels for our Royal Navy ships in UK shipyards.”

We are very disappointed to hear that Babcock does not plan to renew the lease at Appledore and, while this is a matter for the company, the Government stands ready to support any workers affected at this concerning timeGovernment spokesman

Nia Griffith, shadow defence secretary, said: “After months of uncertainty, this is devastating news for the workers and their families. Whilst Babcock has offered its employees the opportunity to relocate to other sites, this will clearly not be possible for many of them.

“The Government must actually support those workers who will be affected by today’s news, and must ensure that any impact on the UK’s sovereign capability is mitigated.

“This Government lets down UK shipyards every day by refusing to use its powers to keep shipbuilding contracts in Britain.

“The next Labour government’s plan for rebuilding Britain will use procurement contracts to create high-quality jobs across the country.”

A Government spokesman said: “The Appledore yard has played a key role in building the nation’s two new aircraft carriers.

“We spent more than £1.7 billion with Babcock last year. We are very disappointed to hear that Babcock does not plan to renew the lease at Appledore and, while this is a matter for the company, the Government stands ready to support any workers affected at this concerning time.

“Babcock has said it will work to offer new opportunities to as many employees as possible and the company will continue to play a key role in the maritime sector, both in supporting Royal Navy ships and as a potential competitor in future shipbuilding projects.”

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