Tesla: German court halts factory plan over snake and lizard habitats

Tesla has been ordered again to suspend preparations for a car factory in Germany after a successful court injunction by environmentalists.

The electric carmaker has been clearing forest land near the capital, Berlin, for its first European car and battery plant.

But opponents argued this will endanger the habitats of lizards and snakes.

A court in Frankfurt an der Oder ordered forest clearing to be halted, pending further examinations.

A similar court order was made earlier this year about Tesla’s plans for what it calls the Gigafactory in Grünheide, in the eastern state of Brandenburg.

The earlier ruling was in response to concerns about wildlife and the water supply.

Tesla has not publicly commented on the latest ruling, resulting from an ongoing legal dispute with the Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU) and Green League. A final decision on the case is still pending.

The environmentalist groups say Tesla’s deforestation will destroy the habitats of sand lizards and smooth snakes, both of which are protected species. They have also expressed concern that the building work will disturb these reptiles during their winter hibernation.

“Even Tesla cannot and must not place itself above the law,” said Heinz Herwig Mascher, chairman of the Green League in Brandenburg, in a statement.

To much fanfare, Tesla’s boss Elon Musk announced plans for the factory last November, and said he aimed to have it operational by 1 July 2021. The aim is to produce 500,000 cars a year.

Mr Musk has also said the company is looking at building the world’s largest battery factory at Grünheide, alongside its car plant.

But the site has become a flashpoint between environmentalists, and Germany’s Christian Democrat and Free Democrat parties, who fear the issue could damage the country’s attractiveness to businesses.

The dispute has also highlighted the risks for the US carmaker, which has not been officially granted permission to build the factory.

Tesla has been granted permission by Germany’s environment ministry to begin site preparations “at its own risk.” This has involved clearing about 91 hectares (225 acres) of forest and the felling of thousands of trees.

But Tesla’s permission to start construction hinges on approval by local authorities, who have to consult environmental groups and the local community. Building work was also set back after seven bombs dating from World War Two were discovered on the site.

Tesla held a consultation process with local residents and groups in October, and over 400 complaints and observations were lodged.

After concerns about the impact the factory could have on local water resources, the firm agreed to cut its water consumption.

Tesla currently has two Gigafactories in the US and one in Shanghai, China. Earlier this year, Tesla overtook Toyota as the world’s most valuable carmaker.

Brexit: Johnson heads to Brussels on Wednesday for last ditch trade talks

Boris Johnson will meet EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday evening in a bid to unblock talks on a post-Brexit trade deal.

The PM will travel to Brussels for the meeting, in an attempt to strike an agreement before the UK stops following EU trading rules on 31 December.

It comes after intensive talks between EU and UK officials ended in deadlock.

The meeting over dinner will come just one day before EU leaders meet for a separate summit on Thursday.

Earlier, Mr Johnson said he hoped the “power of sweet reason” will allow both sides to clinch an agreement before the end of the year.

If an agreement is not reached and ratified by this date, the UK and EU could introduce import charges on each other’s goods.

It comes as the UK announced it had reached agreement with the EU on post-Brexit border checks and trading rules for Northern Ireland.

It means the UK has now dropped plans to override sections of its EU exit agreement it signed last year, potentially breaking international law.

Sir Jim Ratcliffe confirms new car to be made in France

Billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe, a Leave campaigner in the run-up to the 2016 Brexit referendum, has confirmed a new 4×4 car will be built in France.

It ends slims hopes the vehicle, modelled on the original Land Rover, would be made at a new plant in Wales.

Plans to build it in Wales were put on hold in July while Mr Ratcliffe’s Ineos Automotive negotiated buying Mercedes-Benz’s Hambach site, in Moselle.

He said on Tuesday that Hambach offered a “unique opportunity”.

Mr Ratcliffe, who built his fortune heading the chemicals company Ineos, added that the plant in Moselle was “a modern automotive manufacturing facility with a world-class workforce”.

“Ineos Automotive set out a vision to build the world’s best utilitarian 4×4, and at our new home in Hambach, we will do just that,” he said.

When plans to build the vehicle, called the Grenadier, at Bridgend, south Wales, were first announced, Mr Ratcliffe said it was “a significant expression of confidence in British manufacturing”.

It was hoped the factory would create up to 500 jobs, producing about 25,000 Grenadiers a year, once fully up and running.

Chris Elmore, MP for the Ogmore constituency in Bridgend, tweeted that Tuesday’s decision was a “crushing blow” for the area.

“The highly-skilled and dedicated workforce in Ogmore, Bridgend and surrounding areas would have risen to the challenge,” he wrote.

“That Brexit is clearly a major factor at play is a bitter pill to swallow. Ineos owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe was a vocal Brexiteer, loudly proclaiming the benefits of leaving the EU. Today, we can see his claims are as hollow as his promises.”

Under the deal, Ineos will also build Daimler’s Smart EQ electric car at the Hambach site and supply parts for Mercedes Benz, as well as building the new vehicle.

In a statement, Ineos Automotive said: “The site’s location on the French-German border, only 200km from Stuttgart, gives excellent access to supply chains, automotive talent and target markets.”

The new cars will start being built at Hambach late next year. About 1,000 jobs will be created.

“This acquisition marks our biggest milestone yet in the development of the Grenadier,” Dirk Heilmann, chief executive of Ineos Automotive, said.

The decision is the second major blow for Bridgend, as the factory would have stood beside the now-closed Ford engine plant. Ford shut its factory in September after 40 years, with the loss of nearly 1,700 jobs, one of a long line of car manufacturers to leave the UK or reduce output over Brexit concerns.

Could Netflix and Sky start offering public broadcasting content?

Public service broadcasting (PSB) is unlikely to survive without a radical change to regulations, says Ofcom.

The media watchdog suggests streaming services like Netflix might offer PSB content, which could focus on specific viewer groups.

The UK’s current public service broadcasters are the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, STV, SC4 and Channel 5.

The findings are from the watchdog’s review of PSB amidst changes in technology, funding and viewing habits.

Ofcom will consult on the report before making recommendations to the government next year.

The final findings will feed into the government’s own consultation into the future of PSBs, announced by Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden in November.

“There might be ways of bringing in new providers or even providers that are already there, like Netflix or Sky or Discovery, into the market,” Ofcom chief executive Dame Melanie Dawes told PA.

Ofcom also suggested PSBs could engage in more partnerships – such as Britbox – which “would help PSBs better compete and connect with audiences”.

It also wants new laws and rules which are fit for the digital age.

And it says while the funding of PSBs is a matter for the government, other options might include full or part-time subscription models.

Dame Melanie Dawes said in a statement PSBs were facing “a blizzard of change”.

The regulator spoke to audiences of all ages across the UK as well as more than 70 industry players, including broadcasters, streamers, academics, and analysts.

Dame Melanie said: “Our traditional broadcasters are among the finest in the world.

“But television has witnessed a blizzard of change and innovation, with audiences turning to online services with bigger budgets.

“For everything we’ve gained, we risk losing the kind of outstanding UK content that people really value.

“So there’s an urgent need to reform the rules, and build a stronger system of public service media that can flourish in the digital age.”

Ofcom said its research showed that people still value public service content, despite audiences increasingly turning to global streaming.

News was seen as its most important offering, with more than seven in 10 viewers placing importance on regional news.

Viewers also want to keep seeing content made about the UK and their own area on screen, Ofcom said.

Original UK children’s programming, education and religious programming, made specifically for the UK, are seen as public service content that the market is unlikely to provide.

Yet, last year, only 38% of 16 to 34-year-olds who responded (and 67% of all adults) watched traditional broadcast content, said Ofcom.

Two in five viewers of streaming services told the watchdog they could imagine watching no broadcast TV at all in five years’ time.

Broadcasting laws have not been updated since the 2003 Communications Act when the world was a totally different place in terms of technology.

Ofcom proposes adapting rules for broadcasting in a digital age, so that the BBC, ITV and other PSBs can appear more on online television platforms instead of just cable providers.

Ofcom said other countries such as Canada and Germany had successfully changed regulations to oblige online platforms to make public service content available.

The idea of online streaming services offering PSB content was felt to be worth considering due to a fall in advertising revenue.

Ofcom suggested that subscriptions and the involvement of commercial companies could “drive innovation, bringing different insights, experience and expertise to the PSM (public service media) system”.

“Encouraging established or emerging brands, potentially those which already resonate with younger online audiences, should help create an environment where risks can be taken for providing and distributing UK content for audiences of all ages,” it added.

A BBC spokesman said: “We welcome Ofcom’s consultation showing that public service broadcasters are highly valued by UK audiences.

“A publicly funded BBC is at the heart of a thriving UK creative sector. We’re also pleased to see Ofcom’s call for regulatory reform that’s fit for a global, digital market place.

“We’ll look at any proposals carefully and respond fully in due course.”

Honda warns of parts shortage due to UK port woes

Japanese carmaker Honda has warned that production at its Swindon plant may be disrupted, because transport problems may cause a shortage of parts.

The plant operates on a “just in time” production system, where parts arrive at the factory when they are needed.

Honda has told employees that it is currently experiencing vessel delays and congestion at UK ports.

It is looking at other arrangements, such as air freight, but disruption could begin as early as Wednesday.

Congestion at UK container ports has been building up in recent weeks, causing problems initially at Felixstowe, but recently at Southampton and London Gateway as well.

The backlog has built up as companies increased orders after the initial pandemic lockdown, while some have looked to stockpile goods before the end of the Brexit transition period.

Congestion at England’s ports is now so bad that some shipping firms have limited the amount of cargo they will bring to the UK.

Consignments have reportedly been offloaded at continental ports such as Antwerp, Rotterdam and Zeebrugge.

In a statement, Honda said: “Due to transport-related delays, potential parts shortages may interrupt production.

“Whilst a number of measures are being taken to mitigate any disruption, there could be a temporary pause to production to enable any supply issue to be resolved.”

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