Andy Street, the West Midlands mayor, is backing a plan to close Coventry airport and turn the site into one of the world’s largest “gigafactories” making electric car batteries.
At full production, the 60 gigawatt-hours facility would produce enough batteries to power 600,000 zero-emission cars a year. It also would go a long way to solving the estimated 120GWh of gigafactories that Britain will need if its automotive industry is to be a player in an electric car future.
However, the £2.5 billion scheme has no planning permission, no suitable power grid connection for the hugely energy-intensive operation and no customers, as none of the world’s battery producers, mainly Chinese, South Korean and Japanese companies, have signed up as a prospective tenant.
Coventry airport has become an aviation backwater, having lost out to Birmingham International, one of the country’s largest passenger hubs, and East Midlands, Britain’s second largest cargo airport.
Coventry’s airport was acquired in 2010 by Sir Peter Rigby, 78, a sometime property billionaire whose family interests also own Exeter and Bournemouth airports. Rigby’s plan is to get planning permission and grid connections for a gigafactory and then to sell the site to a battery manufacturer to construct the plant, which could supply local carmakers such as Jaguar Land Rover. He has received support from Coventry’s city council, as well as from Street, the Conservative mayor of the West Midlands regional authority.
“From securing the future of our region’s automotive industry and the huge economic and job creation that would bring, to helping to protect our planet from the climate change emergency, a West Midlands gigafactory would be a game-changer for our region,” Street said. “And we are making it happen.”
In reality, the planning decision is out of his hands: consents have to be passed by Warwick district council, which is beyond his ambit.
Mike Murray, who has been employed by Rigby as the gigafactory’s project director, said that talks were contining with Western Power Distribution and National Grid, the local and national energy providers.
There have been no decisions, either, on how the gigafactory will source the renewable energy that it will need if its proposition is to be credible. It is projected that if a buyer is found, the gigafactory would cover an area equivalent to 74 football pitches, create 6,000 jobs, be in production by 2025 and be up to full output in the early 2030s.
Despite the government’s commitment toward zero-emission motoring from 2030, Britain is short of gigafactory commitments. Britishvolt, a privately funded enterprise, has begun construction of a plant on the Northumberland coast at Blyth, while Nissan is planning a gigafactory extension to its car plant in Sunderland.