Jobs blow as historic Sheffield paper mill to close

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NEWS: News.
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More than 150 jobs face the axe with the closure of one of Sheffield’s largest and most historic employers.

Swedish firm SCA, which took over Oughtibridge Paper Mill last year, has announced the plant is to close in 2015.

The site dates back to Victorian times, when it was founded as Dixon’s Mill, and employed several thousand people in its heyday.

However, paper production ceased after the 2007 floods, leaving only processing and packaging of paper brought in from another mill in Lancashire.

In a statement, SCA said it was holding a 45-day ‘period of consultation’ on the future of the site, which it acquired after buying Georgia Pacific’s entire European operation in 2012.

Current work at Oughtibridge sees 161 people employed in converting paper made elsewhere into commercial toilet rolls, paper hand towels, wiper rolls and medical rolls.

A review of operations has concluded the site should be closed in early 2015 and some of the converting lines relocated to another SCA facility at Skelmersdale, Lancashire.

Meanwhile, the logistics operation is to move to Ashton-in-Makerfield, near Wigan.

One former worker at the paper mill, who spent four years there in the 1960s, said: “It’s a sad day, but once they stopped production of paper, it was inevitable.

“The floods left the building underwater and before that there was concern about emissions from the coal-fired boiler system used for making the steam to produce the paper.

“Replacement of the boiler, which also generated electricity for the mill, had been discussed, but after the floods, it was decided to wind the plant down.”

The former worker, who lives in Oughtibridge and still knows people who work at the mill, said the plant had gone through a ‘succession’ of owners over the years and employed several thousand people in its heyday.

He said: “It was the main employer, with the forge and steel works at Stocksbridge.”

Coun Richard Crowther, Sheffield Council Labour member for Stocksbridge and Upper Don, said: “It’s a shame, particularly for the people who work there and those in the surrounding area.

“Closure of such a large employer is clearly going to have an impact. Hopefully the company will do all it can to help cushion the blow, whether that be through offering redeployment or retraining, or anything else.”

Residents in Oughtibridge were concerned about the future use of the site.

One said: “It’ll probably become housing and I’m not sure how services in the area will cope with another 200-300 homes. I’d rather another industry moved there.”

Penistone and Stocksbridge Labour MP Angela Smith said: “I am writing to the company to ask for reassurances relating to redeployment, redundancy and support for those affected in finding alternative employment.

“Due to the abolition of regional development agency Yorkshire Forward, we no longer have an immediate source of support available when situations like this occur, to help with redeployment and finding alternative uses for the site if necessary.”

Tony Richards, product supply director for SCA, said: “To remain a long-term sustainable employer in the UK, our converting operations at Oughtibridge and Skelmersdale have to be consolidated into one site and expansion of the Oughtibridge site is not economically viable, due to its age, infrastructure and manufacturing limitations.

“Making proposals that could affect people’s livelihoods is always a very difficult decision for any company and we would not be doing so now without being confident we had explored all potential strategies for the future of the business.

“We are consulting fully with our employees about our proposals for the closure of Oughtibridge phased over a period until early 2015.

“Part of the consultation process will explore potential opportunities in other SCA sites and outline outplacement support available.”