Huge blow for North Wales as Hitachi halts Wylfa plans

The North Wales economy has been dealt two blows in recent days as the Wylfa Newydd nuclear development has stalled, costing North Wales up to 9,000 temporary construction jobs and up to 1,000 permanent roles.  Shortly afterwards, work was also halted on the much-needed road improvements taking place on the A55, much to the frustration of concerned locals.

Duncan Hawthorne, CEO of Horizon Nuclear Power said in a statement:

“We have been in close discussions with the UK Government, in cooperation with the Government of Japan, on the financing and associated commercial arrangements for our project for some years now.

“I am very sorry to say that despite the best efforts of everyone involved we’ve not been able to reach an agreement to the satisfaction of all concerned.

“As a result we will be suspending the development of the Wylfa Newydd project, as well as work related to Oldbury, until a solution can be found. In the meantime we will take steps to reduce our presence but keep the option to resume development in future.”

Justin Bowden, the GMB union’s national secretary for energy, said the decision to cancel the raised “the very real prospect of a UK energy crisis”.  Bowden blamed the Government’s focus on Brexit for distracting them from the need for action, as the UK is currently reliant on imported energy from France.  He said:

“While the government has had its head up its proverbial backside over Brexit, vital matters like guaranteeing the country’s future energy supply appear to have gone by the wayside.”

However, energy issues aside, many are concerned that major projects being halted in Wales is becoming a trend.

Wylfa Newydd is the latest in a string of major construction projects in Wales to fall through, including the rail electrification project for Swansea, the Circuit of Wales in Ebbw Vale and the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon.

The new First Minister, Mark Radford, joined business leaders in expressing his disappointment and called on the UK Government to take action.  Radford said:

“Hitachi’s decision to suspend work is extremely worrying for North Wales & the UK. Our discussions with Horizon will continue with urgency, but we need the UK Gov to step up & do everything possible to secure this project. We’ll continue to press them to do so.”

Debbie Bryce, Chief Executive Officer at the West Cheshire & North Wales Chamber of Commerce said:

“The news that Hitachi have suspended work on the Wylfa Newydd project is devastating for North Wales and the country as a whole.

“This decision has a knock-on effect throughout North Wales as the project would have brought much needed jobs and investment into the region. Many Welsh businesses have spent time and resources in a bid to be part of the Wylfa supply chain and these firms will be extremely frustrated that yet another major Welsh project has fallen through.

Business organisations across Wales are quietly asking whether continued failure to complete major projects is causing Welsh investors to lose confidence in investing here.

Harri Lloyd-Davies, President of the South Wales Chamber of Commerce said:

“Hundreds of firms have expressed an interest in being part of the supply chain for Wylfa Newydd and attended supplier events, including one as late as October last year. The preparations and investments made by these companies is now in jeopardy.

“Being part of the supply chain for a major project is the lifeblood for many of our engineering and construction firms but too many get shelved. Wylfa Newydd joins a long list of projects including the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon and electrification of the Great Western Mainline that have been delayed, cancelled or scaled back. I don’t know if it’s because our politicians are scared of taking the big decisions, or if our governments fail to instil confidence in international investors but we don’t seem to be able to deliver on major projects in Wales anymore.

“Many Chamber of Commerce members tell me that they are no longer willing to invest the effort in preparing for supply chain opportunities in Wales as the chances of them happening is slim. It is extremely disappointing that the fantastic firms we have here, who supply in to projects in other parts of the UK and across the world, no longer have confidence in projects in their own country. It is an indictment of both the Welsh and UK governments.”

North Wales Economic Ambition Board said in a statement that they will meet with politicians and business leaders on Monday to discuss concerns and to explore ways forward and consider the potential impact on the North Wales economy going forward.

Meanwhile, across Wales, business leaders wonder when it will be Wales turn for a major project to reach conclusion.