THE decision to close Hunterston B two years early has been labelled a ‘huge body blow’ to the local area.

The site is set to move into the defuelling phase by the first week in 2022, and decommissioning of the plant will begin around three years later.

Now the local Labour Party has called on the Scottish Government and North Ayrshire Council to act quickly to find employment for the hundreds of jobs that will be lost after decommissioning.

Councillor Alex Gallagher said: “This is a undoubtedly a massive blow to Largs and the surrounding towns and villages.

"It is imperative that the Scottish Government takes action now, alongside North Ayrshire Council, to address the vital issue of how we retain as many of these high value jobs as possible.”

Conservative councillor Tom Marshall also says plans must be put in place to support those losing their livelihoods.

He said: “The local economy continues to suffer from the lack of well-paid jobs and the presence of large employers.

“The lack of a plan to reinvigorate the economy of the area is a real concern. We need to start acting now in preparation for the plant's closure."

Independent councillor Ian Murdoch says he has concerns about the impact on jobs - but also over the safety of the plant itself.

He added: “I’m very concerned about the impact this decision will have on the local economy but hopefully there will be a large part of the workforce that will remain for several years to come.

“But people are going to be made redundant. I hope a lot of the people losing their posts will be in a position to retire or accept voluntary redundancy.

“While I do have concerns over the economic impact and the loss of long-term jobs, I am extremely concerned about the way the situation has been reported.

“It has been reported that the site is shutting two years early but in fact by the time it closes it will be 15 years beyond its original life."

Site director Paul Forrest told the News that staff will be supported throughout the process, with discussions already taking place.

He said: “Our plan is to generate power up to 2021. After that we move into a period of defuelling that will take three years, then into a period of decommissioning which will take about eight years.

“We will be paying all of our employees up till the end of 2021 at least, there will be no job reductions before then.

“After that there will be reductions in a controlled and phased fashion, we will retain about three quarters of our staff for defuelling, which will mean about 130 staff will lose their jobs.

“That will last up until 2025, and I cannot predict staffing levels after that time, not many industries can do that.”

However, the site director believes the decision has given employees at Hunterston a clear idea of what is to happen in the next few years.

Mr Forrest said: “We employ more than 500 highly skilled staff here and they are very proud of Hunterston, so getting the decision has given the staff clarity for the future.

“It was about us taking control of our own destiny, and providing clarity for our staff after 44 years, which has been a good run with an unblemished safety record.

“The staff are accepting of reality and there will be a tear in the eye when an iconic place like this shuts."

Hunterston B employs around 500 staff and 250 contractors on the site and contributes £54 million to the North Ayrshire economy each year.

In 2018 it was estimated the Hunterston site produced around 15 per cent of Scotland’s electricity.