Currently reading: How Tata's £4 billion UK battery factory will reshape Somerset
Gigafactory supplying Jaguar Land Rover EV batteries should be a boon for locals, but not everyone is happy

Less than a mile from the M5 near Bridgwater in Somerset, another piece of the UK’s electric car industry is being prepared.

Groundworks close to the village of Puriton have begun, people in hard hats are measuring up and notices are being pinned to signposts warning of changes to rights of way.

One month after it was first announced, Tata Group’s £4 billion gigafactory, projected to be one of the largest in Europe when EV batteries begin rolling off the production lines in 2026, looks like it might actually happen.

It’s on a 620-acre site called Gravity: a smart technology campus itself on the site of a former Royal Ordnance factory, which, during the Second World War, made an explosive called RDX for use in bombs such as the 12,000lb Tallboy. It was a huge operation that relied on millions of gallons of water each day from the surrounding Somerset Levels but which also generated surplus electricity that it sent to local power stations.

Some 80 years later, parallels exist between it and Gravity in terms of the latter’s scale, the infrastructure required to support it and its anticipated contribution to the local economy.

“Gravity will be huge and, like the old ordnance plant, have its own rail extension to the local mainline plus a new exit on the M5,” says Ian Liddell-Grainger, MP for Bridgwater and West Somerset.

The gigafactory alone will create up to 4000 jobs, plus thousands more in the supply chain. The deal to get the new factory [a location in Spain was also considered] took longer than we thought, but now, with construction of Hinkley Point C power station already creating jobs a few miles from here, Morrisons opening a new food factory in town and logistics firms basing themselves beside the M5, the future for Bridgwater is bright.”

Gravity Business Park render

He is delighted, then, but are his constituents as pleased? Will the new battery plant be a blot on their landscape that will merely attract skilled workers from outside the region, deprive local employers of labour and drag up rents and property prices? Or is it an enterprise that will create wider opportunities and raise regional skill and pay levels? To try to find out, Autocar spent a day in the area quizzing locals and businesses.

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Thanks to its old port and good road and rail links to the south-west and the Midlands, Bridgwater has a long history as a manufacturing and distribution centre. The wealth that local businesses generated is evident in the fine buildings in the town centre.

But Bridgwater’s high street, like many up and down the country, looks tired and unloved. Luke, a security guard at Boots, blames big business and local landlords. “Skilled jobs at places like Hinkley and the gigafactory never go to locals,” he says. “People from outside always get them, then take the money out of the town. These people also put pressure on rented accommodation so landlords raise their rents. Hinkley and other big firms should pay directly into the local economy to help locals with rent deposits.”

Ricky of Dough Bros Taunton holds up a box of donuts

It’s market day, and along from Boots is a stall selling doughnuts. Dough Bros was launched by stallholder Ricky and his two brothers during lockdown. “We saw what Krispy Kreme were doing and thought we could do it better so came up with our own artisan doughnuts,” he says.

Now, with his brothers manning their new shop in Taunton and Ricky touring markets around the region, the business is flying. Dough Bros is even supplying Hinkley. “We visit the power station once a month and sell around 1000 doughnuts on what they now call ‘doughnut day’,” adds Ricky. “The new gigafactory will be right up our street!”

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It’s unlikely Dough Bros was the kind of supply-chain business Tata Group and politicians had in mind when they shook hands on Bridgwater’s gigafactory; they were more likely thinking of the types of businesses attending the town’s recruitment event.

Suzuki Carry with billboard for the Bridgwater Jobs Fair

Bridgwater Jobs Fair, organised by Stuart Wright, founder of Somerset Jobs, is proving extremely popular. Already by midday more than 400 people have passed through the doors keen to explore employment opportunities with a range of private companies and public organisations. Wright says many businesses are already feeling the pressure of the new gigafactory.

“It will be a massive project and some firms are here today because they want to get the best people before it does,” he says.

Representing The Outsource Recruitment Company, which screens potential employees for its clients, are Ellie (left; pictured below) and Nell (right; below). Today they’re keen to identify recruits for Electrified Automation, a company that, according to the flyer, “develops cutting-edge robotic technology and processes for the electric motor industry”.

The Outsource Recruitment Company's Ellie (left) and Nell (right) at the Bridgwater Jobs Fair

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Positions being offered include manufacturing and mechanical design engineers. “EA is going to grow rapidly in the coming months,” says Ellie. “It needs a lot of skilled people but, like other engineering companies in the region, faces competition from Hinkley. On the plus side, the power station has upskilled people, so there’s a good pool of local talent.”

Speak of the devil... A few stands away, Hinkley is recruiting across a range of jobs. “We’re recruiting all the time and have seen a lot of good people this morning,” says a representative. “Employees travel from far and wide, many attracted by our apprenticeship schemes that take students to degree level.” Farther along is Knight Electrical, based in Ilminster, which manufactures control systems including switchgear and distribution boards.

Customers including BP Pulse, Ionity and Gridserve use the company’s products to distribute power at their EV charging stations. Knight also supplies the distribution systems that enable solar farms to link to the National Grid, and the firm’s co-founder Dale Turnbull sees an opportunity for the new gigafactory: “During off-peak times when energy prices are low, customers store the solar energy in batteries made in China but when the Bridgwater factory comes on stream, they’ll be able to use batteries made in Britain.”

A short drive from the jobs fair, the benefits of a large project like the new gigafactory are no less apparent. Quantock Classics, a car restoration business, was founded by Chris Boyer. Autocar visited him a couple of years ago when he was planning to move to larger premises. Now settled at the new location, Boyer is thinking of moving again to a still larger one.

Chris Boyer (right) of Quantock Classics

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“We’ve got so much work,” he says. “Hinkley has been good for us. Many people there are earning good money and some have spent it on classic cars. I’m sure the gigafactory will be good for us too.” Coincidentally, one of the cars currently in for work is a 1984 Rover SD1 3500 SE, once owned by Margaret Thatcher and credited with encouraging foreign investment in the UK car industry.

That investment secured the future of many automotive jobs, but Boyer hopes some of the benefits of Tata’s investment will be spent on Bridgwater itself: “It’s a prosperous town, but the council should use some of the money it gets from the factory to improve the centre.”

Bridgwater high street

A town’s football club is a good place to take the pulse of a community. Bridgwater United is a stone’s throw from Host, the accommodation campus for Hinkley workers on the edge of town that has taken the pressure off rental properties. It should be possible for residents to hear the 2500 spectators who, on a good day, cheer on the team.

“We get a lot of Hinkley workers at our midweek games,” says groundsman Dan. “You’d be hard-pressed to find a person in Bridgwater who doesn’t know someone working at Hinkley, and a lot of our sponsors are associated with it. I imagine the same will be true of the gigafactory. We just need these big companies to invest directly in the town, which has its problems.”

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Puriton 37 sports and social club

Our visit ends where it began, at Puriton, the village closest to Gravity and the new gigafactory. “Many older locals are against the new factory and the campus, but you have to think of future generations,” says Ebony, a customer at the 37 sports and social club. On the other side of the bar, Gemma is more cautious: “Until it’s up and running, who knows whether it will be good for the town or not?” After a day spent taking occasionally contradictory soundings, it’s hard to disagree. 

The pull of the Tata gigafactory

Autocar render of Jaguar's upcoming electric limousine

The 620-acre technology park under construction outside Bridgwater will be home not only to Tata’s £4 billion gigafactory, making batteries for JLR and other car makers, but also to a host of support businesses and technology companies. 

At least that’s the plan, but assuming the gigafactory does get built, it’s sure to exert a ‘gravitational’ pull on firms keen to serve it. Other draws are the good road, air and rail links nearby and the site’s status, until 2042, as a designated enterprise zone. This is designed to stimulate growth and gives businesses favourable tax rates and regulatory exemptions.

Meanwhile, after a day spent at the hi-tech coalface, workers can repair to the 37 sports and social club, ‘ROF 37’ being the site’s official designation as a Royal Ordnance factory. Upcoming acts include Christian: “Bog-standard singer and not overly funny.”

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Bridgwater's automotive legacy

Bridgwater, Somerset

Tata’s decision to select Bridgwater for its new battery factory might seem odd, but the town does have an automotive legacy. Local bike shop owner Harry Carver founded the Bridgwater Motor Company and opened a car depot in the town in the late 1890s. It quickly grew, and in 1904 the firm moved to what Autocar described at the time as “magnificent premises”, with enough room to “accommodate some 40 cars with ease”.

Later that year the firm began work on making its own cars, working on 12, 16 and 20hp models, based on a French chassis and with Ballot or White and Poppe engines.

Bridgwater Motor Company ceased production of its cars in 1907, focusing on its garage and sales business. It eventually became a long-time Austin and then Renault dealer, but the business closed in 1994.

Join the debate

Add a comment…
XDS3X2 26 November 2023

As a local resident, I can say that many local people are in favour of this development. Of course there are a few 'Nimbys', many of whom were against the construction of a new access road, but who now use it daily!


jagdavey 26 November 2023

If we were still in the EU, none of these "Giga-factories" would have been built in the UK. The French & German car industries would have taken all these investments & simply exported their cars to the UK. The EU would have prevented the UK government offering financial aid to these companies although they never stopped Germany giving billions of Euros to Tesla to build in Berlin.

scotty5 25 November 2023

When it said not everyone is happy, I thought this was going to be an article about Remainers.

It's almost inconceivable how anyone can find a negative in this story ( no pun intended ).  Any area in the UK would welcome this sort of opportunity with open arms.

Bill Lyons 27 November 2023
scotty5 wrote:

When it said not everyone is happy, I thought this was going to be an article about Remainers.

It's almost inconceivable how anyone can find a negative in this story ( no pun intended ).  Any area in the UK would welcome this sort of opportunity with open arms.

Inconceivable? Really?

How's British Volt doing these days? How many millions of pounds of taypayers' money was lost on that fraudulant white elephant?