No partner yet for mill: Gunns tells AGM

GUNNS Limited still does not have a confirmed joint-venture partner to help it build its $2.2 billion Bell Bay pulp mill, the company told its annual meeting this morning.

Gunns chairman Christopher Newman told shareholders that the company had expected to announce its preferred joint venture partner by now, but the due diligence process had taken much longer than expected.

Mr Newman told the meeting that the most pleasing outcome, however, was that its potential partners had confirmed the soundness of the mill's underlying business case.

Earlier this year, Gunns announced that Timo Piilonen would oversee the construction of the pulp mill on the banks of the Tamar River north of Launceston.

"It is still our objective to hold a minimum 51 per cent of the equity in Southern Star Corporation, which is the vehicle that will own and operate the mill," Mr Newman said in his address.

"We understand that there will continue to be individuals and associations that will not support the project, however we believe that the employment opportunities in forestry provided by a sustainable plantation-based model, coupled with the economic benefits provided by the Bell Bay pulp mill, will attract broader community support," he said.

"We commit to continuing open engagement with all stakeholders."

Mr Newman said the company was on schedule to complete the remaining Commonwealth mandated pre-conditions for the mill.

He said that the company would also review the technical specifications of the mill to see whether an improved environmental outcome could be achieved by adopting technological advances since the original mill design was settled.

According to the ABC, almost 100 anti-pulp mill protesters had gathered outside the Gunns offices in Launceston - where the AGM was being held - chanting, blowing whistles and banging drums in protest.

Yesterday, the timber company announced that it would be closing its woodchip mills at Triabunna, Long Reach and Hampshire with 150 jobs expected to be axed.

A short time ago, Gunns shares were up half-a-cent in morning trade to 66.5 cents a share.

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