A DEAL has been reached in principle for the sale of Wrightbus.
Jubilant workers celebrated at the factory gates and some even opened bottles of champagne.
A statement from Jeff Wright on Friday morning said: “Following intensive overnight negotiations between the two parties agreement has been reached in principle over the sale of Wrightbus to Ryse Hydrogen.”
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A spokesperson for Jeff Wright said the outcome of the negotiations involved pragmatism in arriving at an arrangement which is ultimately in the best interests of the long-term sustainability of the bus manufacturing business and jobs in the Ballymena area.
🎥 Delighted workers here at Wrightbus in Ballymena this morning pic.twitter.com/73IhQoG5yv
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“Mr Bamford’s firm will acquire the entire premises at Galgorm including the factory, fixtures and fittings as well as the associated land.
“Wishing Mr Bamford every success Mr Wright confirmed that he had gifted 40 acres of family owned farmland to Mid and East Antrim Council by way of a legacy for the people of Ballymena in recognition of their contribution over 70 years to the service of Wrightbus.
Speaking about his decision Mr Wright said: “This legacy gift is a tribute not only to my father, his father before him, and the Wright family members but most importantly it is a tribute to the generations of workers who helped build a proud manufacturing tradition in Ballymena.
“It is my true wish to see this legacy used for the purposes of expanding manufacturing and benefiting our local community.”
Bidder Jo Bamford said in a statement on Friday morning: “We are delighted to announce that this morning I have agreed terms on a deal in principle with the Wright family for the Wrightbus factory and land”.
“We are still to conclude a deal with the administrators but are pleased to report this important step in the right direction.
“I would like to thank Ian Paisley for his hard work and diligence in helping to mediate what has at times been a tricky negotiation.”
It had previously been reported that there had been an issue regarding farm land at the Wrightbus site.
Ian Paisley, speaking to the BBC on Friday morning said, he understood the farm land had been set aside as a “gift” to Mid & East Antrim Borough Council “and will be a tribute to William Wright for his industrial prowess so there could be some other industrial activity take place on that”.
Mr Paisley said that was a very good way of marking Sir William Wright’s legacy to the area.
The MP said he imagined it will be a “slimmed down company but it will build again and the phoenix will rise from the ashes and this wonderful bus icon will continue to be built in Ballymena”.
Later, in a statement, Mr Paisley said: “I welcome the announcement today by Jo Bamford that after weeks of hard work a deal has now been made on the Wrightbus sight and is concluding the final arrangements with the administrator to take over Wrightbus and get men and women back to work building busses in Ballymena.
“I am delighted that after asking Jo Bamford to consider Ballymena as a location for a significant business investment this has resulted in this deal.
“The farm land that will be a legacy to William Wright’s industrial prowess is a fitting tribute to him and I know that Jo Bamford will work with the Council on making sure that is used accordingly.
“To the workers of Ballymena I salute your fortitude and patience and hope you are never put through something like this again.”
George Brash from the Unite Union said it was a “momentous day” for the workforce.
He paid tribute to the workforce and the solidarity they had shown.
Mr Brash also said the Ballymena community had been “amazing”.
“There are a lot of smiling faces here. They are absolutely delighted.”
He said the Union would be pushing for as many of the 1,200-plus workers to return to work.
TUV leader Jim Allister, a North Antrim Assembly Member, said: “I am delighted by the news of a deal to save Wrightbus.
“I want to commend all who made this possible, many working tirelessly behind the scenes. I particularly salute the fortitude of the workers. The agreement to gift the farmland to the Council is an equitable and sensible outcome. Now, all need to bind together to make this factory great again.
“With all the rancour that was stirred, we now need a time of healing. The Wright family, especially under Sir William Wright, made an immeasurable contribution to jobs and prosperity in Ballymena and further afield. Sir William’s vision and entrepreneurship put Ballymena on the map with cutting edge technology in the bus sector and it is this which will go on giving in terms of future success.
“So, let’s put the last few weeks behind us and all pull with the new owner to move forward with confidence and success.”
Ulster Unionist Leader and North Antrim MLA, Robin Swann, said: “The announcement of a deal being reached in principle between Jo Bamford and the Wright family is welcome news.
“The workers, including members of my own family, are relieved after such a tortuous process where hopes were raised and dashed before the announcement of today’s deal.
“It has been a roller-coaster of emotions for the workers and their families. This announcement will come as a welcome relief for many and I`m glad that common sense has prevailed.
“The workers combining with Union support have had a huge influence on the final outcome and should be commended for the way in which they have conducted themselves throughout this process.
“The next few days will see the shape of the future of Wrightbus and its workforce. It will obviously take a bit of time to get the deal finalised and the operation up and running again, but the quicker that the workers are able to get through the Wrightbus gates and get back to work, the better.”
The Belfast Telegraph reported the views of workers.
Robert Thompson worked for Wrightbus for six years.
“It’s so positive we just need confirmation from the administrators. It’s such a relief now that we can move forward,” he said.
Stephen Russell worked at the Ballymena factory for nine years: “It’s just a matter of seeing how many workers he wants back and hopefully it’s a majority of us.
“We haven’t had much sleep lately but hopefully this will sort things out.”
Andrew French, who has been with Wrightbus for 18 years, said: “I’m delighted but at the same time we still don’t know who’s getting their jobs back. That’s the next fight we have.”
While a deal has been agreed in principle between Jeff Wright and Jo Bamford over the land, a final agreement is still to be reached with the administrator. Although this is widely expected to complete.