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The “sky is the limit” for Arrium’s Whyalla Steelworks with the plant having the long-term potential to expand its capacity 10-fold, British industrialist Sanjeev Gupta says.

Mr Gupta plans to invest heavily in the steel operations in South Australia's mid-north once his company, GFG Alliance takes charge of Arrium's Australian operations.

"Even our immediate, short-to-medium term plans see us investing well over $1 billion here," he said after touring the plant and meeting workers on Monday.

"There are longer-term plans which could be far more grand in terms of steel capacity.

"This place has the infrastructure to be a substantial steel plant of several million tonnes."
"If we go from what we are today, it's just a one million tonne plant. We see this at least being a one and a half million tonne plant.

"Beyond that, the sky is the limit. You could see this being a five to 10 million tonne plant in time."

GFG Alliance has signed a binding agreement to buy Arrium, with the deal on track to be completed by the end of August.

It brought an end to 15-months of uncertainty for the 1500 workers in Whyalla and for the wider community after the company was placed in administration because of its inability to refinance rising debts.

Mr Gupta, who has a strong track record of buying distressed steel companies across the UK and turning them around, says it must have been a "gruelling and horrible" time for all those involved.

But he also warned that there is still much work to do before the plant is globally competitive.  "It's the beginning of a long, tough journey. We're committed to it and I will not rest, but it's a long road ahead," he said.

"In my opinion, this is a world-class asset in terms of the potential it has. We will do our best to realise that potential."

Mr Gupta says he plans to spend considerable time in Australia working on the Arrium business and a substantial amount of that will be spent in Whyalla.

But he declined to comment on the price his company paid to seal the deal, which came after a rival Korean bidder dropped out at the last minute.

Federal Industry Minister Arthur Sinodinos says Mr Gupta is to be thanked for having the vision to invest in Whyalla.  "This is about a sustainable, globally competitive industry based in Whyalla and the continued viability of the plant for the next 30 years," he said.

"Sanjeev Gupta has had the courage, the risk capital, and the entrepreneurship to get the process going, and both the federal and state government will be supportive of that going forward."

Whyalla Mayor Lyn Breuer says the Arrium deal has lifted the morale of the entire town.

"I actually got emotional looking at the steel making (plant) and thinking, we're going to survive. It's a wonderful feeling for our community," she said.

 

By Tim Dornin
 
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