Published: 00:01, 28 February 2013
The interior of a typical Amazon books distribution centre
by James Scott
The main occupier of a proposed huge depot near Ashford could be online retail giant Amazon.
Residents had speculated either the American multinational, Tesco or Eddie Stobart might be possible tenants for the proposed distribution centre to the north east of Highfield Lane, in Sevington.
Developers AXA Real Estate Investment Management and DMI Properties had submitted initial plans for the warehouse along with an alternative to junction 10A, providing slip roads off the London-bound carriageway of the M20 and onto the coastbound side.
Speaking at a meeting of Ashford Borough Council, Weald East ward member (Con) Paul Bartlett (pictured right)said he had been given some hint the occupier would be Amazon.
"Why has the promoter not been absolutely clear on who the occupier will be?" he asked the council. "The developer has given some hint as to who it might be and it's a company called Amazon.
"There is a report into a similar depot in the West Midlands and they proudly say they do not pay the minimum wage – they proudly pay one penny over the minimum wage."
Referring to a national newspaper article about Amazon's warehouse at Rugeley in Staffordshire, he revealed staff were being paid just £6.20 per hour.
Cllr Bartlett said some of the workforce was hired through an external recruitment agency so they had no formal employment contract and Amazon had no obligations to them as an employer.
"I'm not sure if this is the type of employer that we want to encourage to the town," he said.
In response, acting council leader Cllr Gerry Clarkson said: "I can only say that these matters will be investigated when we have the formal application."
An earlier question, put to the council by North Willesborough ward member Cllr Andrew Mortimer (Ash Ind), questioned what evidence there was to suggest the depot would create between 1,500 and 2,000 jobs as previously stated.
Cllr Clarkson said: "It will depend on the final amount of floor space provided. Our understanding is that an application will be made in spring.
"We cannot start questioning and examining this before they come before us with a plan."
David Jarman from Hobbs Parker, which has been promoting the scheme, said he could not provide detail on prospective occupiers but revealed the plans had been postponed.
It was added that the proposed business park would provide for a range of potential occupiers, one of whom is known to be Kent Wool Growers who are moving from their existing site in Tannery Lane.
Hobbs Parker said a proposed programme of public consultation events on the depot and junction plans had also been postponed.
A meeting organised by The Village Alliance, a group of campaigners opposed to the plans, said their own public meeting to be held at Mersham village hall on March 20 would still go ahead.
Amazon did not respond to requests for comment.