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Lafarge in south-east cement wharf buyout

MATERIALS - French firm buys Thames quay to maintain market status in south-east England

FRENCH cement giant Lafarge has snapped up the River Thames wharfing facility of rival producer Castle Cement for an undisclosed sum.

The move will help the firm boost its portfolio in the south-east of England and also mitigate the loss of its Northfleet plant in Kent, due to end production in 2008.

Lafarge will use the facility to import cement from the Continent for use in the capital and surrounding areas.

It will also refocus delivery from its existing production plants - including the Westbury plant in Wiltshire, where millions of tonnes of dodgy cement were produced, leading to the concrete cancer scare earlier this year - into the capital.

The move is part of a £50 million investment programme by the company in an effort to increase efficiency and environmental performance at its existing production facilities at Hope, Derbyshire and Westbury.

It also includes a cement depot at Theale near Reading in Berkshire, where capacity is due to be expanded over the next two years to help cover the expected surge in demand.

Lafarge hopes to get a new 1.4 million tonne-capacity cement works in the Medway Valley up and running in time for the plant to be able to lift capacity when needed.

Rail heads at the giant's Hope and Westbury plants are being expanded to help cope with the expected increase in demand.

According to Birmingham-based Castle Cement the deal is a boon for both companies.The firm, part of the Heidelberg Cement Group, will use its Avonmouth wharfing facilities to import material from overseas.

A Castle Cement spokesman said: 'We have agreed to sell our West Thurrock cement terminal in Essex to Lafarge Cement for an undisclosed sum.

'The facility has not been fully utilised for some time because of changes to the marketplace and allows us to concentrate on our Avonmouth facility.'

No jobs have been lost as a result of the move although some staff are understood to have taken voluntary redundancy while 19 have transferred employment from Castle to Lafarge.

Lafarge Cement managing director Jeff Sautin claimed the deal would allow the company to manage the handover from the Northfleet terminal when it closes in 2008.

He said: 'It is our intention to remain the leading supplier in the south-east.We are working to achieve this through a comprehensive development of our production and distribution network. Doing this deal three years before production at Northfleet ends moves us closer to achieving our goal of giving our customer a seamless transition.'