120 jobs to go at Westport cement plant

Holcim has delivered another body blow to the West Coast, announcing today the closure of its Westport cement plant within two to three years.

The 120 staff were told the news at meetings this morning.

The Cape Foulwind factory is Westport's second largest employer behind Solid Energy, which in the past year has shed at least 340 jobs from the Stockton Mine.

Westport has a population of 3900 people.

Holcim signalled six years ago that it may quit the ageing Westport plant, built in 1958. It initially talked of a new plant, either there or at Oamaru, before deciding on Oamaru and gaining resource consents.

However, it said today it would instead build a new import terminal somewhere else and start importing cement to New Zealand within two to three years. The Oamaru factory proposal was put on hold.

It is now considering possible deep-water ports in both islands, but did not specify where.

Holcim New Zealand general manager Jeremy Smith said the news ended a period of uncertainty.

"While many will be pleased to know that the plant will continue to operate for several more years, today's announcement of upcoming closure also brings a greater sense of certainty about the future."

For now, it would maintain full production. A closure date would not be known until the timeframe for completing the new import terminal had been set.

Mr Smith said the terminal would cost more than $100 million. It would leverage off the resource available from its worldwide supply network.

He said the decision had been reached after extensively investigating other options. In the current economic climate, importing cement was the most appropriate decision. Depending on the location of the import terminal location, the company may also require only one company-owned ship for New Zealand distribution.

Buller Mayor Pat McManus said it was "not good for Westport and not good for the West Coast".

Losing one job on the Coast was too many, and the region had lost far more than that.

Mr McManus said he hoped the proposed Bathurst open-cast coalmine at Denniston would get up and running before Holcim shut the doors at Cape Foulwind.

"It's not the best time. Hopefully that's the worst news over and we can get some new mines up and running."

Mr McManus said demand for cement had not been as strong as expected in the Christchurch rebuild, with firms importing their own.

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