MORE than 40 enginering workers in South Tyneside could see their jobs transferred to Northumberland after a company announced relocation plans.
Shocked staff at Tharsus Engineering in Glen Street, Hebburn, were told of the plan – which will leave them facing a 38-mile round trip to work – when they arrived yesterday morning.
Now a one-month consultation process over the plan to move to Blyth is being launched.
The firm’s chief executive, Brian Palmer, said the “chaotic nature” of a planned revamp of Hebburn town centre had contributed to a move towards its relocation plan.
In 2006/7 the Tharsus site faced an uncertain future as it was in area earmarked for major development but regeneration talks between retail giant Tesco and the council over a revamp of Hebburn town centre collapsed in 2010.
Mr Palmer said: “For a number of years we have not invested in the Hebburn site because of the uncertainty and the chaotic nature of the plans for the town centre. It’s been a question of making do rather than investing and developing it.
“We want to make the business as strong as we can and this is an opportunity to combine resources to become more efficient and competitive.”
Mr Palmer said there was no question of redundancies as a result of any switch from Hebburn – where Tharsus has been based since the early 1970s.
He added: “We have looked for alternative accommodation in South Tyneside, but there isn’t any. There will be no change to the working environment but obviously the one negative impact would be the travel implications for our workers.”
Mr Palmer said the “likelihood” was that even if the company had been forced to move four years ago, it would have transferred its staff to Washington or Sunderland – because of a lack of an appropriate facility in the borough.
Coun Michael Clare, the council’s lead member for regeneration and economy, said he shared the disappointment over the loss of skiled jobs in the borough and future employment opportunities.
He said: “This is very disappointing news. We are doing all we can to support local businesses and boost economic growth across the borough.
“We also remain committed to driving forward our ambitious regeneration plans for Hebburn Town Centre and businesses can take confidence that work is now under way on our £12m Hebburn Hub.
“Tharsus is an important manufacturing company with a highly-skilled local workforce. We have worked with Tharsus for several years to try and secure the company’s future in Hebburn.”
One member of the Tharsus workforce, who did not wish to be named, said: “We are all concerned because we are sure this move is going to happen. Not everyone drives and getting to Blyth will be difficult and expensive.
“Most of the staff live in South Tyneside and nobody wants to go to Blyth. Quite a few are looking for new jobs and some of those people have worked here for more than 30 years.
“It looks as if we could all be transferred within three months. It’s a worrying time.”
Tharsus manufactures a wide range of products, including hydrogen energy storage units and electrical vehicle charging points.
IT would be ‘tragic’ if Tharsus Engineering moved out of Hebburn after 40 years, says a councillor in the town.
Coun John McCabe, Labour representative for Hebburn South, expressed his disappointment after the company announced it was considering a switch to Blyth in Northumberland.
He said: “We don’t want companies leaving the town. We want to encourage inward investment and not see investment leaving the area.
“I don’t know the full facts but I’d be disappointed if this company had not been given alternatives because things can be done. Hopefully, lessons will be learned from this.
“A move to Blyth would cost drivers £3.20 a day through the Tyne Tunnel. It’s a big extra expense.”
Tharsus management has cited uncertainty over the revamp of Hebburn town centre as a contributing factor in the move to relocate.
The council is now pushing ahead with a new multi-million pound community hub in the centre of town.
It will incorporate a six-lane, 25-metre swimming pool, plus a gym, library and council and housing services.
But that move only came after US-owned retail giant Asda, owner of Hebburn’s main shopping centre, decided not to build a superstore in the town.
Earlier talks between the council and retail giant Tesco collapsed in 2010, before Asda entered the frame.
A new site has now been earmarked on the corner of Station Road and Glen Street, and council chiefs are still hopeful of attracting a supermarket chain.