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Britain’s Green Suicide Gathering Pace

Fears that energy-intensive industry could be hit by government climate-change policies were heightened on Wednesday after Rio Tinto Alcan said it would close its Northumberland aluminium smelter, with the loss of more than 500 jobs.

The loss of these relatively well-paid industrial jobs is a blow for north-east England, the UK’s highest unemployment region.

Rio Tinto blamed rising energy costs. “It is clear the smelter is no longer a sustainable business because its energy costs are increasing significantly, due largely to emerging legislation,” said Jacynthe Côté, chief executive.

The mining group, which last month announced plans to divest an estimated $8bn of aluminium assets globally to cut costs, says its Lynemouth smelter is currently “just profitable” but from 2013 faces annual costs of £56m and rising to comply with European and UK carbon legislation.

Roger Salomone, energy adviser to the Engineering Employers Federation, said: “There’s a real concern here that unless we rethink climate change policy we could be facing further job losses.” He said the government’s promised package to help energy-intensive industries – which the sector is anxious to see in the chancellor’s autumn statement on November 29 – should offer “material measures”.

Ian Lavery, Labour MP for Wansbeck, said the news was devastating. He said the ruling coalition had for months talked of a package of measures but had not acted quickly enough, allowing Rio Tinto “off the hook”. “It’s a combination of government, green taxes and a multinational company with no commitment to an area like Lynemouth,” he said.

The site is the biggest private-sector employer in south-east Northumberland, where the percentage of working-age people in parts of Wansbeck and Blyth claiming out-of-work benefits is nearing 40 per cent.

The government, said Mr Lavery, has “got to make its mind up” about its stance on environmental legislation or risk tens of thousands of job losses.

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