A key British car workers union has welcomed the news on Tuesday that General Motors Ellesmere Port plant is one of four chosen to to build the next generation Astra model line.

Tony Woodley, general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union, said the decision was a vote of confidence in the workforce at the plant near Liverpool. Their productivity and quality as well as their desire to win the new model was crucial, he said.

The decision to build the replacement for the current Astra - built at Ellesmere Port - was announced in Brussels by Vauxhall chairman Jonathan Browning.

Building the new Delta platform-based Astra at Ellesmere Port is expected to secure 2,200 directly employed jobs at the plant and between 8,000 and 10,000 in the supply chain, according to the union.

General Motors said assembly of its next-generation compact-sized cars had been assigned to four manufacturing plants: Ellesmere Port, Bochum, Germany; Trollhättan, Sweden; and Gliwice, Poland.

Production of the new vehicle, due to replace the existing Astra in early 2010, is expected to involve a EUR3.1bn and a 30% productivity improvement.

Although there are no plans to allocate compact car production to the Antwerp, Belgium, facility beyond 2010, GM insisted: "We are not talking about a plant closure, however, we have to achieve the necessary improvements. No decision has yet been taken on future production but we will work on options for assembly operations at fair volumes together with the European Employee Forum (EEF).

"GM Europe will continue the process of information and consultation accordingly. GM's Antwerp plant currently employs 4,500 people to produce the three- and five-door version, the station wagon and the convertible of the current-generation Opel Astra," GME said in a statement.

"Product allocations are extraordinarily difficult decisions to take," said GME president Carl-Peter Forster.

"All of our western European plants have significantly improved over the past few years and are now very close in terms of the various measures of performance, such as cost, productivity and quality. In the end, it is a strategic decision based on a number of factors such as capacity planning, brand and market considerations, as well as ongoing restructuring activities."

Independent from future product allocations, current production at Antwerp is intended to be reduced in 2007, reflecting the normal diminution in demand over the current product's lifecycle. GM Belgium is to begin consultations with employee representatives on staffing at Antwerp, where the elimination of the equivalent of a shift would require 1,400 fewer people.

Forster said: "I know that today's announcements will be very difficult for our workforce in Antwerp. I want to recognise the contribution and performance of the entire team. We are committed to identifying a socially responsible approach to the intent to reduce the headcount later this summer by the reduction of production volume and to discuss alternatives for a fair transition beyond the end of the decade.

He added: "The automotive business remains very challenging and GM Europe must continue to focus on increasing productivity and efficiency in order to compete effectively. We plan for an annual production of 750,000 units of compact cars in Europe, which is an increase over the 535,000 produced in 2006. Even with an increase, adjusting capacity to meet demand remains a challenge for GM as it is for other automakers worldwide.

"We would like to start soon the preparation work with our teams in Gliwice, Bochum, Ellesmere Port and Trollhättan for the production of the next generation, which will require reduced assembly time and an increase in productivity of 30%."

Of those plants, Bochum currently employs 4,900 people, Ellesmere Port 2,200, Trollhättan 2,150 and Gliwice 2,800.