Alchemy, the venture capital group buying Rover, denied claims of asset stripping last night after announcing plans to close one of the oldest breweries in Wiltshire and redevelop the site for shops and houses.
The closure of Ushers, in Trowbridge, by its owners, the Innspired Group, a front company for Alchemy, will mean 185 job losses and the end of a brewing tradition dating from 1824.
InnSpired Group refused to sell the brewery to a management buy-out team because, they said, the team failed to offer enough money and the sources of its funding were unsound. InnSpired wanted £4m for the 20-acre site but a spokeswoman said the team had come up with only £3.75m.
"They didn't raise the money required and it was felt the loans they were getting weren't sound," she said. "The site will be be used for retail and residential development. I am not commenting on whether that is asset stripping. You can't say that now because it is impossible to say whether we get more for redeveloping the site than selling the brewery to the management."
Last night Alastair MacLeay, managing director of Ushers and leader of the buy-out team, said: "We are bitterly disappointed that after long and intensive negotiations it has not been possible to reach an agreement to buy Ushers."
The fate of the brewery is bound to raise fears among Rover workers and unions about what Alchemy intends to do with the giant Longbridge plant if it succeeds in buying Rover from the German car maker BMW. Jon Moulton, the managing partner in Alchemy, has consistently denied his bid is asset-stripping, although unions feel Alchemy has no interest in long-term car production at Longbridge.
John Hemming, the West Midlands entrepreneur putting together a rival bid for Longbridge, is part of the consortium being headed by a former chief executive of Rover, John Towers. Mr Hemming, leader of the Liberal Democrats on Birmingham City Council, was believed to have helped persuade Mr Towers to lead the bid. Details of the rival offer, backed by the Government, are expected in the next few days.
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