Somerset gigafactory: Tata keeps site in limbo
The latest news from Britain's EV sector
Hello, I’m Tom Riley, and welcome back to The Fast Charge, a British EV newsletter.
Top story in today’s edition… Six months on from announcing a UK gigafactory, Tata is still reticent to confirm Bridgwater in Somerset as its chosen site. Why?
Elsewhere… Used EVs hit record sales, VW calls for incentives (again), and someone needs to do a sanity check on Bristol’s EV plans.
As ever, if you have any thoughts or feedback, do get in touch via my contact details below or reply to this email.
When will Tata confirm its gigafactory site?
Headline: Despite endless news reports six months ago announcing Tata, the conglomerate that also owns Jaguar Land Rover, would build a new gigafactory in the UK, I can reveal that the location is still unofficial – as Tata has stalled publicly confirming the proposed advanced manufacturing site in Somerset. This news comes after speaking to numerous people close to the ongoing developments.
Quick recap: Last July, after the Prime Minister and Tata’s boss held ‘secret talks’ in the Spring, it was announced that the government would provide £500m of subsidies to Tata so it could build a much-needed battery factory in the UK. This support was offered because Tata debated whether to pick the UK or Spain for its factory. The half-a-billion deal worked, as shortly afterward Tata announced £4bn of investment to build in the UK – 40GWh in size with production beginning in 2026. This was a major win for the government, creating 4,000 direct jobs, with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak even marking the news with a visit to JLR.
The location: There were acres of news reports surrounding the announcement, with everyone from the BBC to the Financial Times reporting Tata had chosen a site in Somerset. The site (called Gravity) is a 620-acre advanced manufacturing location near Bridgwater (close to Hinkley power station). The Bridgwater site has long been mooted as a gigafactory location, with the government having told Tata its £500m offer included discounted energy and a new motorway junction from the M5 to it.
However… When you inspect the various press material from Tata and the government about the gigafactory, to my knowledge there is still no mention of them picking a site in Somerset. In fact, when you ask people close to developments about the Gravity site, they get very cagey.
Why so guarded? There is no clear answer. Multiple people close to the arrangements have said the situation is frustrating, especially given the huge amounts of press last year – which one person said gave the government a day in the sun, meanwhile, the site has sat in silence ever since, leaving Somerset in limbo. Another person aware of developments suggested Tata may be withholding the confirmation while it pushes for more state support, though I’ve been unable to verify this claim.
Based on my understanding… There is a high likelihood that Tata will develop its gigafactory in Somerset – JLR has, I’m told, mentioned Somerset on a recent shareholder call. However, despite this, they are not yet ready to speak publicly about the Bridgwater site.
Govt response: I asked the Department for Business and Trade about the lack of site confirmation and if they would offer further support. A spokesperson told me: “The gigafactory site location is a matter for the company, and they will confirm its chosen location in due course, following due diligence.” It’s understood this ‘due diligence’ has been going on since last Summer. When pressed on whether this ongoing assessment involved the government, a second DBT spokesperson confirmed they would be continually engaged with Tata, as this was always the case whenever state support was provided.
Site response: When I asked the Gravity site owners if Tata was already on location or engaged in works, a spokesperson told me they were unable to comment.
Local MP: I asked Ian Liddell-Grainger, the Bridgwater and West Somerset MP, for his view. In a statement, he said: “Gravity is an outstanding site for a development of this nature partly because of its outstandingly good transport links. It is immediately next to the M5 and previously had a direct rail link to the nearby main Bristol to Taunton rail line. Much of the original infrastructure remains and it would be a relatively simple and cheap operation to reinstall the connection.”
Ian added: “Bridgwater is home to a highly skilled workforce and while it is unlikely all the available jobs could be filled from the immediate area the location is within easy commuting reach of Bristol and Gloucester to the north and Exeter to the south.”
Hiding in the shadows? While Tata is reticent to say anything publicly about Bridgwater, there is evidence to suggest they are already there. Firstly, in Gravity’s latest accounts published on 29 December, it’s noted: “Notwithstanding the financing, the sale of a substantial part of the company’s site completed in October 2023 realising a significant profit on sale and releasing cash.” Secondly, in a Q1 2024 ‘Look Ahead’ published by Gravity, it says “There are now two landowners” of the site. It adds: “This is Gravity who secured the Local Development Order remain as one landowner. Other occupiers will be announced in due course.”
Going the distance: Tata created a new company called Agratas to develop its global battery business. In late January, it was announced that Agratas would be collaborating with Tata Technologies to support the design and manufacturing of its gigafactory. Presently, all of Agratas’ 19 job roles are being recruited into Coventry – where Tata has a large base and employs hundreds of people. It is over two hours from there to Somerset. Meanwhile, I find it interesting that the alternative West Midlands Gigafactory site is just 20 minutes up the road and not far from JLR. Food for thought…
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Top EV news…
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