Deal secures 500 jobs in Colchester

FIVE hundred jobs were safeguarded last night after a major manufacturing company in Colchester struck a deal to remain in the town.Colchester Borough Council's planning committee last night voted unanimously to accept Flakt Woods' applications to convert its existing factory in Tufnell Way into 750 dwellings and move into new premises in the Cuckoo Farm development.

FIVE hundred jobs were safeguarded last night after a major manufacturing company in Colchester struck a deal to remain in the town.

Colchester Borough Council's planning committee last night voted unanimously to accept Flakt Woods' applications to convert its existing factory in Tufnell Way into 750 dwellings and move into new premises in the Cuckoo Farm development.

But the council had to compromise on the number of affordable homes it will order to be built on the site to ensure the company could stay in the borough - reducing the number by 150.

More than 500 jobs at the industrial fan makers had been at risk after the East Anglian Daily Times revealed the company was considering moving its operations abroad because the cost of relocating in Colchester was too high.

The historic company, which was formerly known as Woods of Colchester, intended build a new factory at Cuckoo Farm, south of the A12 in Colchester - but only if it could secure permission to redevelop its existing brownfield site and thereby fund the move.

Under the borough council's planning policies, new housing developments have to set aside 25% for affordable homes, which would have seen the town benefit from 187 cheaper dwellings.

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However, the company and council-commissioned consultants calculated that Flakt Woods would forgo around £13.4million in housing sale proceeds and so likely prohibit it from raising sufficient cash to build at Cuckoo Farm.

As a result, council officers offered the company a compromise under which they would have to provide only 5%, or 37, affordable homes. The company agreed.

Last night, Steven Knowles, Flakt Woods' chief operating officer, who has lived in Colchester for 48 years, told the planning committee that the Tufnell Way site was the most outdated of its 15 factories in Europe.

He said: "Staying at Tufnell Way is not a viable long term option - it is likely we would have to move abroad if these applications do not go through.

He added: "As part of the move, we would also be providing a £7million package for education, art, transport and affordable housing to Colchester."

John Jowers, leader of the Conservative group on the council implored the committee to pass the application.

He said: "It would be a tragedy if Woods were not given the option of staying. These skilled jobs are real jobs - they are worth their weight in gold because they anchor the community.

"They make us more than a dormitory town," he added.

However, committee member Elizabeth Blundell said: "I have to say that I'm disappointed that we have to go with the 5% level - homelessness is a huge problem and the more affordable homes we get in Colchester the better."

The committee voted unanimously to accept the two applications subject to a number of conditions about providing various public facilities, including cycle paths and contributions to education and the arts.

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