A VALVE firm is to axe 180 jobs - over half its workforce - and leave its historic Birkby site.
Employees of the former Hopkinsons Valves were given the grim news at a meeting yesterday.
The company, now called Weir Valves and Controls UK, has begun a 90-day consultation process with workers and union officials.
It is expected to result in 180 redundancies from the 350-strong workforce at Britannia Works, Wheathouse Road, with manufacturing posts taking the brunt.
The move follows a review of the loss- making business by top directors at Glasgow-based parent group Weir.
Divisional managing director Phil Clifton said the group had carried out "a progressive number of programmes to safeguard the business" in the face of severe competition.
But he added: "Despite these initiatives, the business has incurred losses in recent years, questioning its viability."
Mr Clifton said the group recognised the heritage of the Hopkinsons business and the strong worldwide reputation of its brands.
But he said: "While we remain on the current site and operating model there is no prospect of a return to viability.
"Only by making substantial changes is a sustainable future for Weir Valves and Controls UK possible."
He said: "No matter which way we analyse the business, it is not possible to continue with our existing size of workforce.
"The proposed future will focus on design, assembly and tests, with a reduced dependence on in-house machining."
Mr Clifton said the group would help employees being made redundant to find new jobs.
One employee said: "They told us yesterday and it left people very upset.
"Everyone is very worried. People had been expecting an announcement, but to lose half the workforce is a real blow.
"A lot of people have given their working lives to this firm."
Weir also confirmed plans to leave the sprawling Birkby works - home to Hopkinsons Valves for 100 years.
Mr Clifton said Weir would invest in a modern facility within a few miles of the Birkby site and was looking at a shortlist of possible locations.
The company would begin transferring operations to a new site in the autumn and complete the move by early 2006.
Mr Clifton said the Birkby site was expected to be sold. A possible buyer had been identified.
Labour ward councillor Mehboob Khan said the decision was a massive blow for Birkby.
"I am very disappointed," he said. "The loss of 180 jobs will have a dramatic effect on families and the local community.
"Many of these people have worked at Hopkinsons all their lives."
Clr Khan added: "I hope Weir is looking for a site in Huddersfield. I am positive Kirklees Council will make every reasonable effort to help them remain in the locality."