PANASONIC is planning to close its Newport site with 53 workers facing redundancy, it announced yesterday.

In the latest blow for the city, Panasonic System Networks Company UK Ltd announced proposals to "cease all operations" at the Newport site with 53 of the 75 employees' jobs identified as being at risk.

The company, which has the site at Pencarn Way, Duffryn, said "the ongoing severe economic environment and resultant weak sales demands" were the reason behind the restructuring proposals.

Necessary operations would move to Cardiff with remaining operations being moved to sites in mainland Europe and Asia, it said.

Staff at the Newport site, which carries out engineering and provides technical and other support services for European sales, were told about the proposals yesterday morning (weds).

A 30-day formal consultation will now be held between the company and Unite trade union shop stewards and regional officer.

A social plan which will contain financial support, advice and outplacement assistance will be given to affected workers as part of the consultation.

The restructuring is proposed to be completed by March next year.

Unite regional co-ordinating officer Bryan Godsell said employees at the site were both "shocked and stunned" by the announcement.

He said: "Going forward, we will be working with the company constructively within the formal consultation process to ensure the best possible support and compensation for our members."

Newport West MP Paul Flynn said: "The company has had great service and loyalty from Newport for a long period. I shall be sending them a letter expressing my disappointment at this announcement."

Newport council leader Bob Bright said he was "extremely disappointed" to hear about the proposals.

He said: “We have worked closely with them over the last 18 months to explore every opportunity to maintain their presence in the city.

“We understand the challenges they face in the current economic climate and the competitive production costs in other countries. We are pleased that some of their high-end jobs will remain in south east Wales, but are none the less saddened that this important employer will no longer be based in Newport.

"We will do everything we can to support those affected during this difficult time.

“We will also continue to work with Panasonic to secure a new tenant for what is a prime business location just off the M4.”

PANASONIC has been at the Duffryn site since 1987. At its peak it employed more than 600 people.

But by March this year that number had been reduced to 251.

Then, it was announced a further 164 jobs were to be axed at the plant due to the production of telephone exchange systems being moved from the site to Vietnam.