PM talks to US car giant amid £1bn Somerset gigafactory plans

Urgent discussions are ongoing at the highest levels in government as ministers attempt to secure a deal to build a gigantic GBP1bn electric car factory in Somerset. Rivian, a US EV giant valued at more than £100bn, is considering a 635-acre smart campus called Gravity in Puriton, near Bridgwater, as a base for its first factory outside America. The proposed gigafactory would be the largest single building in the UK if it is built, and the deal would be the most significant car deal in the UK since the 1980s, a source close to the discussions previously told Somerset Live , creating up to 40,000 new direct and indirect jobs.

: Have your say on plans to speed up delivery of the Gravity site in Somerset However, it is understood the US carmaker, backed by huge international firms like Amazon and Ford, is also considering two sites within the EU. Government ministers have been in discussions with the California firm since September this year, and Somerset Live understands a large group of representatives from Rivian visited the Gravity site in September.

While talks were put on hold as the firm completed its IPO in the US, discussions are now heating up again, with the UK government offering up added incentives to Rivian, according to the Financial Times. Prime minister Boris Johnson is closely involved in attempts to woo Rivian’s management, it is reported. British ministers have offered a package including a new link road to the M5 motorway, training facilities and the reintroduction of an old rail link that used to go north from the Somerset site – once the home of a Royal Ordnance bomb factory.

The 635-acre Gravity site in Puriton, near Bridgwater, SomersetPM talks to US car giant amid £1bn Somerset gigafactory plansProposed layout of the Gravity smart campus near Bridgwater, including the location of new rail links

Sky News reports the government has also offered to use a special development order (SDO), a rarely used legal power aimed at enabling rapid planning decisions, to facilitate Rivian’s arrival in the UK, as well as offering other financial incentives.

It is also understood that talks involve executives from Amazon, which owns a fifth of the carmaker following its initial public offering last month. Somerset Live understands Boris Johnson spoke directly to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos in September about the project. It is likely Mr Johnson would be eager to get the deal over the line to demonstrate his “levelling up” and “build back better” agendas post-pandemic, as well as helping to facilitate tens of thousands of new jobs in a perceived environmentally-friendly sector.

PM talks to US car giant amid £1bn Somerset gigafactory plansRivian RT1 on display during the New York International Auto Show on April 17, 2019

Gravity CEO Martin Bellamy previously told Somerset Live the “shovel-ready” Somerset campus is the “only site in the UK” immediately available for a large electric vehicle manufacturer to begin building a factory.

In March this year, business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng told the House of Commons he believes Somerset “has the manufacturing skill and competence to be able to sustain an excellent gigafactory”, adding that the government was “considering and looking” at the Gravity site. A spokesman for the UK Government has said it is “working hard to attract inward investment into the UK to accelerate the growth of new industries and create jobs”, but added that it “does not comment on speculation about individual investments”.

‘Very significant impact on local and regional economy’

Speaking to Somerset Live earlier this year, Gravity CEO Martin Bellamy said: “We have been working in lockstep with the government on various large-scale opportunities.” He said “the impact to the local and regional economy would be very significant indeed” if one of these large deals could be struck.

Mr Bellamy believes the Gravity site is the “only site in the UK” immediately available for a large electric vehicle manufacturer to begin building a factory. He says this is due to the size of the site, the transport infrastructure in place and the fact the location is “shovel ready”, and work could begin as soon as a deal is struck.

PM talks to US car giant amid £1bn Somerset gigafactory plansA CGI of the Gravity Smart Campus

Mr Bellamy also revealed the site has a beneficial planning pathway in place to get projects off the ground quickly, whereas other UK sites might have to wait 12 months or more to begin construction work. The Gravity CEO added that an electric vehicle manufacturer on the site could generate “upwards of 5,000” jobs, and “seven to eight times” that number of indirect roles within the supply chain.

What is Gravity?

The 635-acre Gravity smart campus is located on a former Royal Ordnance Factory site in Puriton, near Bridgwater.

It will feature a direct link road to junction 23 of the M5, as well as purpose built on-site freight and passenger rail terminals. The business park will also feature dark fibre internet connectivity, low carbon on-site energy solutions and water abstraction facilities from the adjacent River Huntspill. Gravity has previously stated its aim to attract “world-leaders in advanced manufacturing, robotics, artificial intelligence and electric vehicles” to the giant site.

PM talks to US car giant amid £1bn Somerset gigafactory plansThe site features fast transport links for road and rail, and has close proximity to Exeter Airport and Bristol Airport, as well as Bristol sea port

What is Rivian?

Rivian specialises in building electric sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks.

Founded in 2009, the Irvine, California-based company, seen as a significant challenger to Tesla, is currently valued at more than £100bn after going public earlier this year.

It is backed by many of the biggest investors in Silicon Valley, including Ford and Amazon.

PM talks to US car giant amid £1bn Somerset gigafactory plansRivian is a California-based electric car company

Rivian has a contract with Amazon to build 100,000 electric delivery vans by the end of the decade, with 10,000 due by the end of next year.

The US carmaker already operates a small engineering office in Woking that focuses on “advanced concepts, body and lighting”.