Monday, September 24, 2007

Thanet Earth - Question Time

News today that more than 550 jobs will be created when Kent-based company, the Fresca Group teams up with specialist large-scale growers of fruit and vegetables in building a 91-hectare site - to be called Thanet Earth - located between Birchington and St Nicholas at Wade.

Fresca will invest £80million in the project that will include seven glasshouses, each covering the area of around 10 football pitches, and will use the very latest in efficient hydroponic growing techniques.

Expanding the local economy in any way, is a positive step but two questions concern me as I'm sure they will concern others. Firstly, how such a massive construction will appear as we drive past it and from the air - I will take photos - and very importantly, where the 550 new jobs will be sourced from.

If it's agricultural work, then I suspect and I would like to be proved wrong, that the great majority of these will be unskilled and Eastern European sourced in nature. Given last week's stories from Boston in Lincolnshire, if this is the case, then we need to think very carefully and clearly about both the impact on the community in which the workforce will live and what indeed are the real benefits to the Thanet workforce?

What do you think?


John said...

Simon, All the problems that you allude to have already been submitted to TDC at planning application stage. Establishments of this type in the Faversham area are finding it almost impossible to find labour. This is farming on an industrial scale to provide cheap food to the supermarkets. What happens to the site when the supermarket cancels the contract? We will have an industrial wasteland on what is now prime agricultural land. I`m off now to write up the bus contract between the new "farm" and the Neyland Rock!

sue said...

We all want to see more employment in Thanet but in Spain these areas are called plastic valleys. Do you think there will be "glass" houses or will they be plastic tunnels?
To get labour for them, there just needs be a reasonable wage offered rather than an exploito pittance designed to employ desperate immigrant labour. Immigrants deserve a decent wage too anyway.

Michael Child said...

Gentlemen any chance you could post the planning reference so we can look at the plans online £80 million sounds like very big investment perhaps something more than the plastic tunnels we all know and hate.

Little Weed said...

It's a long running application ref: 05/0237

Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree more with the original item re sourcing jobs and visual impact. I know I'm not on the spot for this but has there been much said about it around Thanet? It seems there are a similar number of jobs involved compared to the proposed wind farms off Ramsgate and yet nothing appears to have been said in the papers until now.

This place sounds like it's the size of St Nicholas, let alone be sited near the village! Perhaps St Nicks will become a solar hot pot (genuine typo - should be hot spot but I like the hot pot idea too yum, yum!). Perhaps the villagers will sport a year round tan in future years and be eating tropical fruit?

Regards to all.

Nick, Whitstable.

Anonymous said...

Don't buy cheap food from supermarkets.

Anonymous said...

The site is actually closer to Monkton than St Nicholas. Heading North from the Monkton roundabout on the A299, it’s the land to the right, over to the small lane that goes over the fields to Brooksend. You can look at the overall site plan and location here;

(that’s the A299 Monkton roundabout at the bottom)

It is also proper glasshouses, not plastic tunnels – this is greenhouse 6;

and an aerial view;

As regards jobs, it’s hard to know. Businesses of this type do typically use a lot of agency labour, but Thanet does have a large unskilled workforce (nearly 60% of the working-age population have no qualifications at all), and relatively high unemployment (effectively around 10%, heavily concentrated in unskilled workers).

It’s to be hoped it can employ a good number of these people, albeit it is not likely to be highly paid. But neither is flipping burgers.

Cllr Ewen Cameron

Michael Child said...

Thanks for the info the plans show something so huge it’s difficult to comprehend, one thought that occurs is it’s not really anything like conventional greenhouses but really an excuse to put a food factory on a Greenfield site. As far as I can find out, if built this will be the largest greenhouse in the country with open spaces in Thanet diminishing so rapidly it all seems a bit of a shame.

From an environmental point of view I would have thought that a plant producing huge amounts of food would be better sited nearer the centre of the country.

From an employment point of view I would have thought food production this way is likely to put agricultural workers out of work.

Goodbye garden of England?

Anonymous said...

All fair comments, Michael, though I would have to beg to respectfully differ on it being a “food factory”. In some ways it replaces horticultural land since built over (e.g. the housing estate at Cliffsend)

I think the overall effect should be beneficial for jobs. I cannot really see it putting other UK agricultural workers out of jobs. It may well do so abroad, though.

I did some work on foods and food production a few years ago, and I must say the numbers surprised me. In 2002, we ran a £12Bn trade deficit in food and beverages, rising at 5% per annum, yet over half of it was in items we could produce or grow in the UK. The two biggest exporters to the UK were France and the Netherlands – countries with similar climates to our own, who accounted, between them, for over a quarter of all UK food imports.

The planning decision was before my time as a Councillor, but, overall, I think I would have been inclined to support it. I have seen modern glasshouse units this size and larger (abroad, naturally) and I didn’t think them unattractive, and though, like you, I am worried about green land disappearing, the land is question seems to me to be of quite low levels of amenity.


Cllr Ewen Cameron

Ken Gregory said...

I was involved in the planning decision, and although I live close by, I will not be able to see it from my humble dwelling. The site will be returned to fields, should the venture fail, and this was agreed in writing by the land owner.
There will be seven glass houses, each the size of 10 football pitches.

Vast in scale, but considering the agricultural jobs we have lost locally, a worthwhile investment. If locals are not going to take the jobs,it will still benefit the local area. ie food buying, clothes, and services. Local business will benefit, and also the name of Thanet will be spread far and wide, on the labels of the produce,

Michael Child said...

Points taken gentleman, you are probably right, I will get back to trying to make Pleasurama a safe and viable development, something which understandably no one wants to comment on.

Anonymous said...

This application was lodged a long time ago by the Montgomery family and when it was finally approved by TDC (last autumn) this was the subject of an article in the Gazunder and comments on Thanet Life. ECR, ran an item on Thanet Earth last Monday from Freshinfo, a fresh food producers magazine. BBC only picked this up yesterday! This isn't really news people,if you have been following Thanetlife closely!

Anonymous said...

What about the impact on wildlife ?
To be excluded from an area of this size must surely push the wildlife out.

Anonymous said...

Shame on the Montgomery family.

Anonymous said...

The impact on wild-life will be minimal as the area in question (west of Seamark Road to dual carriage-ways) has been under intense cultivation. The planting of trees and shelter belts to reduce the visual impact will probably enhance wild-life! No, not shame on the Montgomery family but well done! If this investment succeeds, Thanet will be a major producer of a great deal of food that is currently imported and the project will employ upto 500 people; far more than were employed growing cauliflowers and arable crops. The farm-land will be under intensive cultivation albeit under glass and will reduce imports. If the unskilled and work-shy in Thanet do not take up the employment opportunities that will result then so be it!

Anonymous said...

People were glad to see the back of cauliflowers, so what do they expect a farmer to do? He has to earn a living after all. At least the land will be used for crops.
With landscaping involved I wouldn't think it will be that unsightly and we all have to eat.

DrMoores said...

True it's not a new story, it's been covered here before but not in the light of the issues being discussed in regard to the workforce et al.