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Wood recyclers Sonae closes

The UK’s largest waste wood reprocessor has closed raising concerns about industry capacity.

The Sonae chipboard plant on Merseyside announced on 14 September that its operations would cease immediately after weeks of speculation about its future.

Nigel Graham, Sonae managing director, said in a statement: “It is with great sadness and regret that a final decision has been taken to close our Knowsley manufacturing plant, following in-depth consultation with employees and trade union representatives.

“The decision is the result of long delays to the reconstruction of the factory due to the political and planning difficulties and the reduced and unsustainable capacity levels that have ensued.

“No further manufacturing will therefore take place at the plant after 14 September and all but a small element of the workforce will leave the company from today.

“We have a loyal and committed workforce and our employees have been doing everything in their power to maintain operations. Unfortunately however, our trading position is no longer commercially viable.”

The move followed the company running a consultation on possible closure this summer.

Peter Butt, executive director of the Wood Recyclers’ Association, said two weeks ago that news of the plants imminent closure was “very bad”.

He said: “This single act rips over 15% - 400,000 tonnes a year - out of the UK recycled wood market. Recyclers have been making contingency plans, but this volume of business is not easily replaced.

He added: “It could not have come at a more difficult time for the wood recycling industry, which is already experiencing heavy stocks in the south of the UK. This ‘waste wood mountain’, as it has been described, has partly but not entirely resulted from Sonae’s reduced level of operations, following the fire there last year.”

The Unite union which represents workers at the plant said the news was “devastating” for the 220 people who had lost their jobs.

Unite regional officer, Graham Cain, said: “This is a very sad day for the workers and a further blow to manufacturing in the north west.”

The site has been dogged with problems in recent years.

Three workers were killed at the site in the past three years, prompting George Howarth, Labour MP for Knowsley to call for an independent assessment of health and safety at the facility.

There was also a fire at the site in 2011 which the firm said had forced it to reduce its capacities and delay reconstruction.

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