More than a dozen companies have expressed interest in buying Britishvolt’s Northumberland factory site only hours after the battery group collapsed, as politicians warned the failure was a “disaster for the UK car industry”.
Britishvolt fell into administration on Tuesday after a last-ditch fundraising effort was blocked by its creditors. Its largest asset is a site in Blyth, in north-east England, which was to be the home of a £3.8bn battery gigafactory that would form a key part of the UK’s electric car industry.
Businesses including FTSE 100 miner Glencore and Jaguar Land Rover owner Tata Motors have expressed interest in the site, according to people with knowledge of the discussions, as well as several other car manufacturers and wind turbine makers.
Although the site is currently empty, its deepwater port, access to clean energy and rail links make it ideal for a large-scale battery factory.
Jonathan Reynolds, shadow business secretary, told the House of Commons on Wednesday that the project had been lauded as the government’s “flagship example” of levelling-up the country yet “all we have been left with is an empty space”.
“The collapse of Britishvolt into administration is in no uncertain terms a disaster for the UK car industry,” he said, adding that it was “the symptom of a much wider failure”.
Graham Stuart, climate minister, said the government was working with the local authority and potential investors on the sale, adding that ministers were not “giving up” on the automotive industry and insisted plans to scale up the EV industry were “greater than ever”.
The electric car and battery industry represents a big economic opportunity for the UK, which is set to ban sales of new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030, but has fallen behind European rivals in developing gigafactories.
Stuart said the government had offered “significant support” to Britishvolt through its Automotive Transformation Fund but that certain criteria to secure the funds — including private sector investment — had not been met.
Administrators at EY have been seeking buyers for the rump of Britishvolt’s business, which consists of the technology behind its prototype batteries as well as 26 prized staff behind its intellectual property.
Katch Fund Solutions, a secured creditor of Britishvolt, has separately appointed Begbies Traynor as receiver over the Blyth site. Katch’s loan to the company was secured against the land, railhead and portacabins at the site.
A receiver has powers to sell assets to recover money owed to a secured lender. Surplus funds from any sale would then go to Britishvolt shareholders.
The two likely outcomes are a packaged sale of the intellectual property and land or simply a sale of the land, according to two people familiar with the matter, but EY has a limited opportunity to make the former happen.
A source close to Glencore, which was an investor in Britishvolt, said the company is “clearly supportive of the development of gigafactories and battery recycling plants across Europe” but denied direct interest in buying the land.
Tata had been in talks about providing rescue funding for Britishvolt when the start-up came close to bankruptcy last year, but walked away from the business without investing.
The Indian group is yet to strike a deal to source batteries for Jaguar Land Rover, which would require setting up a new gigafactory, potentially in the UK.
The preferred bidder for the Britishvolt site must be planning to build a battery manufacturing plant and have at least £150mn of working capital, a requirement that needs to be met to access the government’s pledged £100mn grant for the project.