A major expansion by Jaguar Land Rover with the promise of another 700 jobs at its engine factory in South Staffordshire was welcomed today, with regeneration chiefs and business bosses saying the development would boost the prosperity of the region.
The under-construction factory was originally meant to cost £355 million and employ 750 people when it opens at the end of next year.
But the luxury car maker is to almost double the number of jobs and pump £500m into the site.
It leaves the 226-acre i54 business park on the border between South Staffordshire and Wolverhampton almost full, with council bosses confident every plot will be sold soon. Just 30 acres remain available for sale, with JLR owning the vast majority of it.
JLR’s plot extends to the south west of the i54 towards Bilbrook and covers around 100 acres. However it is not thought the current plans will fill the entire space, leaving room for further expansion.
The company has long prompted speculation that it would be expanding because the 828,000 sq ft facility it is building takes up only around half of the land it owns.
With the new engine testing facility unveiled by JLR boss Ralf Speth at the Geneva Motor Show the factory will extend to more than one million square feet.
The i54 is already home to aerospace manufacturer Moog and laboratories company Eurofins.
There are four more plots – 30 acres in total – still for sale.
The plan is for Staffordshire County Council and Wolverhampton City Council to attract an office block, a business hotel, a services centre and a ‘business village’ offering smaller office buildings.
It is hoped that supply chain companies will flock to the i54 to be near to JLR, which is set to produce engines by early 2015.
In a joint statement, Councillors Roger Lawrence, Phillip Atkins, and Brian Edwards from Wolverhampton City Council, Staffordshire County Council and South Staffordshire Council said:
“Jaguar Land Rover’s latest announcement is excellent news and a further boost to the prosperity of Wolverhampton and South Staffordshire.
“Extending its plant will create hundreds of jobs in addition to the 750 that will be created when the advanced engine manufacturing facility is operational– not to mention the thousands more through the supply chain.
“We are delighted that Jaguar Land Rover is strengthening its commitment to the i54 South Staffordshire site before construction of the main facility has even been completed.”
Councillor Lawrence, leader of Wolverhampton Council, added: “We have around 30 acres left to market. I would anticipate putting ‘i54 full’ signs up pretty soon and moving on to other developments around the area.”
Some of the first employees at JLR are currently training in Wolverhampton. Eight engineering apprentices are on courses at City of Wolverhampton College.
Meanwhile work starts on March 18 to extend the slip roads from junction two of the M54 near Coven Heath to allow HGVs a direct access on to the i54 site and avoid the need to use the congested A449 Stafford Road. The work will cost £40m and take until the end of 2014, with cars forced to slow to 50mph on the M54 as they pass the i54.
It is being funded by Wolverhampton City Council and Staffordshire County Council and will be paid back over 18 years using business rates from JLR and other companies on the i54.
Gavin Williamson, MP for South Staffordshire, said: “I hugely welcome this additional investment from Jaguar Land Rover and, even more importantly, the extra jobs for local people that this will create.
“This will have a massive impact, both in terms of its economic boost to the surrounding area and the effect it will have in attracting further manufacturing businesses to invest in this extremely exciting region.”
Pat McFadden, MP for Wolverhampton South East, added: “JLR’s plans to increase investment and employment at its i54 factory is a great tribute to UK manufacturing.
“I hope Wolverhampton schools, the college and university are geared up so that local young people can get the extra jobs the new JLR investment will bring. This new investment is a huge opportunity for Wolverhampton and surrounding areas.”
Len McCluskey, general secretary of the Unite union, said: “Having lobbied JLR and the last Labour government to set up a new engine plant in the West Midlands, we are delighted that this state-of-the-art facility is going to be expanded.
“This is a fantastic boost for manufacturing. JLR is going to build its own engines and it is going to manufacture them here in Britain.
“This is a massive vote of confidence in the skills of the UK workforce. JLR’s investment will generate quality jobs in the West Midlands and is a much-needed shot in the arm for Britain’s struggling manufacturing sector.”