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Future of Ineos hangs in balance

THE FUTURE of Runcorn's giant chemical plant is in doubt after a Halton MEP and his European Parliament colleagues voted in favour of proposals to regulate the chemical industry.

THE FUTURE of Runcorn's giant chemical plant is in doubt after a Halton MEP and his European Parliament colleagues voted in favour of proposals to regulate the chemical industry.

Liberal Democrat MEP Chris Davies was among Euro MPs who met last week in Strasbourg to support moves to publicly identify dangerous substances and place curbs on potentially harmful chemicals.

The European Parliment passed the Chemical Policy White Paper proposals, known as the Schorling Report, and the European Commission is expected to introduce a draft legislation by next summer.

A public record of substances will be established due to fears that some household products could contain chemicals that may contribute towards health problems such as breast and testicular cancer, asthma and skin allergies.

But Mr Davies, who said the initiative to regulate the chemicals industry was 'long overdue', has been blasted by Labour MEPs who claim excessive red tape could cost the Ineos Chlor plant, at Weston, up to 2,000 jobs and cripple the local economy.

The plant produces 80 per cent of the UK's caustic soda and chlorine, used in a wide variety of plastics and pharmaceuticals, but the Labour MEPs say these products could be forced off the market if Liberal and Green members get their way.

North West Labour MEP Brian Simpson said: 'I think it is indefensible that any MEP from the region should be supporting proposals which would be potentially disastrous for a plant which is so important to a regional economy -­ and indeed could put at risk jobs in many other industries.'

Yorkshire and Humber MEP David Bowe backed Mr Simpson's claims, describing the moves as 'potentially disastrous'.

Mr Bowe said: 'Regrettably Chris Davies and his colleagues are seeking to force through measures which could have a devastating impact on the Ineos Chlor plant and indeed other chemical factories in the UK.

'As well as the 2,000 workers directly employed at the Runcorn plant, Ineos Chor has estimated that its closure could result in many more job losses with the UK chemicals sector and other industries, perhaps as high as 133,000 in total.'

But Mr Davies dismissed the opposition to the moves as 'silly point scoring'.

He said: 'At this stage MEPs are only being asked to give views on matters of principle. The details will come later.

'It is simply incredible that we have more than 30,000 chemicals in daily use and yet no assessment has been made of their long-term effects.

'We have learnt from harsh experience that substances such as anti-fouling paints on boats can have immensely damaging consequences for marine life, and we must be sure that the minute changes we are making in the chemical balance of our planet do not create similar problems.'

He added: 'We are yet to see the final proposal for the new law. Euro MPs are telling the Commission that they must take full account of environmental concerns but also recognise that the chemicals industry is of great importance to our economy.'

The blow follows reports in last week's Weekly News that more than 180 jobs are to be axed in Runcorn.

The Office for National Statistics announced it is to shed 91 jobs at its Halton Lea site while European Vinyl Corporation, which was taken over by Ineos Chlor in March, will lose 50 jobs at its plant in Runcorn and 40 workers at its factory in Helsby.

A spokesman for Ineos Chlor said: 'The EU white paper on chemicals will have a potential affect upon anyone involved in chemicals handling and production. We are monitoring the situation.'

The UK Chemical Industries Association (CIA) said it fears flaws in the scheme could choke the chemical industry with red tape.

A spokesman for the CIA said: 'Although we support the aim and some of the components of the White Paper proposals, our experience with current EU systems of a similar nature suggests that the proposed system would be administratively demanding, bureaucratic and impracticable.

'We also have real concerns that it could seriously damage the attractiveness of the EU as a base for the chemical industry and its customer industries. The White Paper largely ignores the social and economic effects of the proposed policy.

'If the EU imposes this requirement on the chemical industry, production will simply shift overseas.'


David Holmes
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