When Newsprinters announced plans to close Knowsley in May the news that such a well-invested plant could be shuttered sent a shockwave through the industry.
The Merseyside factory, alongside Eurocentral in Glasgow and the then-greenfield facility at Broxbourne, was one of three print sites that were completely revamped in a £600m mega-spend that took place from 2000-2008 when media group News International, now News UK, switched to full-colour printing and left its London print site in Wapping.
Knowsley runs five Manroland Colorman XXL triple-width newspapers presses. It can produce 430,000 120pp tabloid newspapers per hour. It is understood to have around 200 employees.
A News UK spokesperson told Printweek: “We began a consultation process in May, with colleagues and representatives at our Knowsley print plant, around a proposal to close our Knowsley site at the end of this year and migrate the print and distribution work into our sites at Broxbourne and Eurocentral in order to retain our UK-wide print and distribution capability.
“The proposal followed a strategic review which concluded that the closure was the only way to maintain a viable Newsprinters business.
“An alternative opportunity has now emerged which, if successful, will keep all three Newsprinters sites open and printing. It’s the shared view of the wider leadership teams at Newsprinters and News UK that this is a positive and credible option as we aim to preserve the future of our printing business and save jobs.
“We are now stopping the consultation process as we focus on developing this new option.”
Industry sources also told Printweek that there is speculation that major news groups including News UK and Daily Mail owner DMG Media, are considering combining their printing assets to create a cost-effective and efficient solution to declining print runs.
In England, DMG Media has print sites at Thurrock in Essex and Dinnington in South Yorkshire. Dinnington runs the same type of Manroland presses as the Newsprinters sites, while Thurrock runs Koenig & Bauer Courier flexo newspaper presses.
DMG Media also has a smaller satellite print plant in Carn, Northern Ireland.
“You can see that it makes sense, logically. The products are all the same size and it’s the same paper. Something must be in the pipeline,” an industry source noted.
“You would think it’s 99% certain that Knowsley will stay open now, surely they wouldn’t make that sort of announcement otherwise.”
Reach Printing Services, also with three sites, is the biggest third-party contract newspaper printer in the UK.
There is also speculation that the news groups could also upgrade their presses, or add new equipment, to allow them to produce their own weekend supplements during downtime periods when the presses are idle due to newspaper production schedules.
DMG Media has already brought production of its Saturday Weekend supplement in-house in a move that was hastened by the collapse of YM Group’s web division.
News UK agreed a five-year supplement printing deal with Walstead earlier this year, after previous incumbent Prinovis announced plans to close it Liverpool plant.