Bunhill: Europe in action

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The Independent Online
MANCHESTER city centre was not the place to be last Thursday as two wide loads from the GEC Alsthom works in Trafford Park brought traffic to a virtual standstill.

For all their impressive size, not to mention the inconvenience they caused, the company had little to say about them. No one in its London, Rugby or Manchester offices would explain what was going on. 'The company simply does not want to talk about the project,' said Brian O'Neill, publicity manager at Rugby.

The sensitivity may be explained easily: the shipments were not goods made for export; they represent the innards of the factory itself. While Mancunians lie back and think of United winning the Premier League, and maybe Manchester staging the Olympics in 2000, the Old Trafford works are quietly being dismantled and shipped to a sister GEC Alsthom plant in Belfort, France.

This is Europe in action: German fitters are stripping out the machinery that is used for making turbines - for loading on to French lorries that will run back and forth throughout the summer in an operation costing pounds 1m.

While officials remain silent, there is a signal of sorts from the works: the factory's flag is at half-mast - perhaps a sign of what is going on, and the feelings of the workforce, which is down to just 400.

Ironically, on land nearby, workers are busy building a rail freight terminal to handle the exports and imports that will move through the Channel tunnel. What exports?

(Photograph omitted)