HUNDREDS of workers face an uncertain Christmas after Tata Chemicals Europe (TCE) confirmed it was shutting down two plants in Winnington.

Soda ash and calcium chloride production at the site will cease in the New Year, resulting in 220 job losses.

But the company said ‘restructuring’ its operations would secure 250 direct jobs within TCE’s remaining businesses across Northwich.

Hope of maintaining 140 years of soda ash production at the site was lost on Monday, December 9, when Tata confirmed rising energy costs had left it too expensive to operate.

The head office and the sodium bicarbonate plant will remain at Winnington.

TCE managing director, Martin Ashcroft, said: “There is real regret that TCE will have to bring to an end a long history of soda ash production at the Winnington site, but energy costs have overwhelmed the viability of these plants.

“Restructuring the company will provide a sustainable presence in Northwich.”

Closure will occur during the first quarter of 2014 and allow Tata to rebalance the energy it draws from its combined heat and power plant, producing less steam but generating more electricity.

However, the company is still subject to rising gas prices.

Mr Ashcroft said the ‘energy challenge’ TCE faced was an example of how European energy market prices ‘seriously threatens’ the ability of energy-intensive manufacturing companies to compete on the world stage.

He added: “We commend the unions and our employees in particular for playing a vital and constructive role in helping to develop a sustainable future, which will be focussed on growth.

“As a result, we expect to be able to restrict the number of compulsory redundancies to 75 through redeployment and voluntary redundancies and TCE will be providing a significantly enhanced redundancy package and a comprehensive outplacement programme to assist employees leaving the business.

“Thanks to the backing of many stakeholders, our employees and the shareholder, TCE now looks to the future opportunity to grow our business in existing and new markets and to secure our presence in Northwich for the long term.”

Tata spokesman Stephen Bray added that the closures were ‘absolutely unavoidable.’ “Energy prices account for more than half of what it takes to produce soda ash. To do nothing would have sunk the business completely,” he said.

Tata Chemicals Europe is the UK’s sole manufacturer and supplier of soda ash and sodium bicarbonate.

Formerly known as Brunner, Mond and Company, it was originally founded in 1873 and was a major constituent of ICI’s formation in 1926.

Divested from ICI in 1991, it was acquired by Mumbai-based Tata Chemicals in 2006.

Soda ash has been produced in Winnington since 1874.

Tata Chemicals Europe also operates from sites in Lostock and Middlewich.

The Winnington closures will not impact the company’s salt production business.