Coventry battery Gigafactory plans take a step forward, as MPs call for more Government funding
The developers of a new Gigafactory for electric vehicle (EV) batteries in Coventry have filed a planning application - but MPs are warning that the UK Government's £500m pot for Gigafactory development will need to be scaled significantly.
Coventry City Council and Coventry Airport first announced plans to develop the Gigafactory, to be located on the Airport’s estate, this February. The project will need to gain planning permission from Warwick District Council and Coventry City Council, the former of which is not expected to make a decision until later this year.
Should permission be approved, it is hoped that the facility will be fully operational by 2025.
The full planning documents are not yet available on the Coventry City Council website. However, the local authority said in a statement that the factory would occupy an area size 5.7 million square feet, featuring space for battery recycling as well as battery production. Research from organisations including the University of Birmingham has proven that the UK’s EV stock is growing faster than recycling infrastructure, laying the foundations for a future resource challenge.
According to the statement, the Gigafactory will have onsite renewable electricity generation facilities which, when compounded by grid-supplied renewable electricity, will ensure that the facility runs on 100% green electricity.
Coventry has been selected as a location for the Gigafactory because the West Midlands plays host to several major automotive firms, which will need to shift to EVs in line with the government’s 2030 ban on new petrol and diesel car sales. They include Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), Aston Martin Lagonda, BMW and LEVC, the UK’s only electric taxi manufacturer. Earlier this year, JLR pledged to phase out diesel, petrol and hybrid models from the Jaguar brand by 2025.
West Midlands Mayor Andy Street said: “It is mission-critical that the West Midlands secures a Gigafactory, both for the future of our region’s automotive industry and the huge economic and job benefits it would bring, as well as the future of our planet. I am therefore delighted that after years of collaborative work, we have now been able to reach this milestone moment of formally submitting a planning application for our preferred site.
“By driving forward with our plans and going through the planning process now, we are trying to get everything in place for when a commercial negotiation between supplier and customer concludes, meaning we can move quickly to get the site operational as soon as possible.
“The West Midlands is already home to the country’s biggest car manufacturer, Europe’s largest research centre of its kind, the UK’s only battery industrialisation centre and a world-leading supply chain. A Gigafactory, therefore, is the natural next step for the UK’s automotive heartland, and I will not rest until we have secured one.”
Earlier this month, Nissan confirmed plans to develop a 9GWh Gigafactory at its Sunderland manufacturing plant, as part of a £1bn mission to transform the facility into an EV hub. Elsewhere in the UK, 30 GWh Gigafactory has been proposed by manufacturer Britishvolt. The firm confirmed last summer that it has shortlisted two potential sites for the facility, both located in Wales. It wishes to co-locate the facility with a solar farm. Tesla is also reportedly keen to bring a UK-based Gigafactory online. Last year, the firm was spotted assessing a 635-acre site in Somerset.
Financing the EV revolution
The announcement regarding the Coventry project comes in the same week that MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) are urging the Government to develop further funding plans for Gigafactory development.
In a letter sent to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), Kwasi Kwarteng today (16 July), the Committee outlines how the £500m Automotive Transformation Fund “appears insufficient” to support an ambition for the UK to host five Gigafactories by 2027.
MPs on the Committee, the letter states, have head evidence that other governments are typically supporting Gigafactories at a rate of £750m per plant.
The letter also implores BEIS to give more consideration as to the recyclability of the batteries set to be produced at new Gigafactories, as well as how virgin materials will be sourced. It outlines how the UK currently imports most of its critical raw materials from developing nations “where significant concerns have been raised about the way in which these materials are being extracted”. Scaling up domestic supply chains could mitigate these environmental and social risks, while also reducing transport-related emissions, the letter argues. Measures could be included in a new Critical Raw Materials Strategy.
EAC Chair Philip Dunne MP said: “Recent announcements of plans to build Gigafactories EV batteries in the UK are clearly welcome; bringing together the UK’s strengths in automotive manufacturing and low carbon innovation. We applaud this, as well as the Government’s collaboration with industry on this issue, which should secure the future of many thousands of jobs in the automotive sector.
“But to meet net-zero Britain, we still need to take it up a gear… We doubt the £500 million Government funding left in reserve for automotive transformation will be sufficient to secure the additional 100GWh of Gigafactory output needed for the UK’s EV sector to reach its full potential. Without further government support, the establishment of the battery EV sector in the UK, critical to maintain our auto industry supply chain, will reach a dead end.
“We already know we have thriving clusters well equipped to host gigafactories – but the UK’s potential extends beyond simply manufacturing. Lithium — a crucial component for EV batteries — has been found in Cornwall. Extracting this crucial raw material in a sustainable way at scale could extend the UK’s supply chain and support the shift to EVs.”