Published: 12:30, 29 September 2017
| Updated: 13:12, 29 September 2017
Construction has begun of an £18 million fruit packing warehouse set to create 500 jobs.
Mayor of Maidstone, Cllr Malcolm Greer formally got building work underway on Thursday as he dug the first turf for the building to be run by soft fruit wholesaling co-operative Berry Gardens.
The 25-acre development at Linton, near Maidstone, will protect 434 existing jobs and create a 14,000 sq m packhouse with 12 loading bays.
The project is being developed by Alan Firmin, the company best known for its haulage business.
Cllr Malcolm Greer said: “This is an important investment for Maidstone and sends a positive, confident message about the prospects for the area’s fruit industry. It’s a privilege to get work started.”
Berry Gardens’ chief operating officer Nick Allen said the groundbreaking marked “an exciting development” in the company’s history.
He said: “The construction of the new pack house will ensure we continue to meet the challenges of our thriving market and create sustainable local employment.”
Tonbridge-based Berry Gardens is owned by UK growers – and has marketed and distributed fruit grown in this country for more than 40 years.
It increased turnover by 14% to £311 million last year, helping it to a pre-tax profit of £5.4 million, down 3%.
About 100 jobs will be created in the two years it will take to build the pack house, with a further 60 jobs indirectly supported through the supply chain.
Michael Firmin, managing director of Alan Firmin, described it as a “purpose built, high quality facility”, with wildwood and wetland incorporated on the site to support wildlife.
Nearly 500m of hedgerow will be planted and the building will also have 650 sq m of solar panels.
Mr Firmin said: “We and Berry Gardens have a long track record of working together, and we are very pleased to be able to assist again with their expansion plans for the future.”
Alan Firmin was advised by DHA Planning, Brachers, Page Surveyors, Corylus Ecology, Lloyd Bore landscape consultants and Rural Partners.
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