Huge 'world-first' tomato greenhouse near Bury St Edmunds set to create hundreds of jobs
A vast tomato greenhouse covering an area larger than the O2 Arena will be built outside Bury St Edmunds as part of a £120m project creating 360 new jobs in Suffolk and Norfolk.
The development, at Ingham, is one of two "world-first" buildings which will be warmed using waste heat from Anglian Water treatment facilities - a model aimed at reducing the carbon footprint of agriculture.
The second greenhouse will be constructed on the Crown Point Estate outside Norwich. Project managers said the combined development will cover 29 hectares, equivalent to about 47 international football pitches, and be capable of producing 12% of the UK's tomatoes.
The plans were announced by Greencoat Capital, the UK's largest renewable energy investor. A spokesman for the firm said: "Decarbonisation of the heating and agriculture sectors has so far been disappointingly slow despite their enormous carbon output.
"These pioneering greenhouses make a significant step towards solving both problems at scale, reducing the carbon footprint of food produce by 75% compared to European equivalents and increasing UK food security."
The construction phase of the project will begin immediately, said the firm, with completion expected in autumn 2020.
Commercial-scale growers from the UK and the Netherlands have already committed to leasing the space.
The greenhouses, developed by Oasthouse Ventures, will be among the largest ever constructed in the UK. Standing around 7m tall, the structures allow crops to grow vertically along guidewires without the need for any soil - instead, they are grown hydroponically from nutrient-rich water solutions.
Once they are fully operational, Greencoat Capital said the two greenhouses will be capable of growing more than 20 tonnes of tomatoes every day, and will create 360 permanent jobs "in the local area", plus another 120 seasonal jobs during the peak picking season.
The greenhouses will provide optimum growing conditions for a range of plants and vegetables requiring high-heat, and relatively low-light environments, such as tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers.
Closed loop heat pumps will be used to transfer the heat from the water recycling centres to the greenhouses to accelerate the growth of the plants, and capture the majority of the carbon - with the added effect of cooling treated water outflow before it is returned to the environment.
Dr Lu Gilfoyle, head of environmental quality at Anglian Water, said: "It has been great to be involved in such an innovative project, helping to solve a number of challenges for Anglian.
"Removing excess heat from the river systems is a priority for Defra and ourselves, and it is fantastic to be able to put that heat energy to good use."
James Samworth, a partner at Greencoat Capital, said: "Technology and cross-sector co-operation is continuing to unlock some amazing possibilities in energy and agriculture.
"We see considerable opportunity to invest in renewable heat in the UK, providing pensions investors with the predictable returns they require to pay beneficiaries, meanwhile reducing our carbon emissions as an economy."
Andy Allen, director at Oasthouse Ventures, said: "Delivering a world-first low carbon greenhouse system is hugely exciting for the small team who took this from conception, design and planning, to contracting and now construction. The environmental, social and political benefits of these systems are significant, and we look forward to further disrupting the traditional carbon heavy models of agriculture."
Although the project partners are claiming a "world first" by using the recycled heat from water treatment plants, this will not be the only hi-tech tomato greenhouse in Suffolk.
Earlier this year, the first commercially-grown crops left the £15m low-energy 5.6-hectare glasshouse built for Sterling Suffolk between Bramford and Great Blakenham, capable of producing an estimated 150 million tomatoes a year.