Major firm's move thrown in disarray

EXCLUSIVEBy James HoreTHE future of one of a town's last major manufacturing companies is hanging in the balance today after its planned relocation hit problems.

EXCLUSIVE

By James Hore

THE future of one of a town's last major manufacturing companies is hanging in the balance today after its planned relocation hit problems.

Flakt Woods, which employs 500 workers and has an annual turnover of more than £50million, was due to move its industrial fan-making operation to the new Cuckoo Farm development in Colchester.

But the move, which would have released millions of pounds of highly-sought-after brownfield land for 750 houses at its current outdated site in the town's Tufnell Way, is now on hold after the company declared it was not financially viable.

The relocation ran into difficulties after the costs of the Cuckoo Farm move increased, combined with the burden of the financial obligation to pay costs towards the redevelopment of Tufnell Way to Colchester Borough Council.

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Council officers are now in negotiations to thrash out a deal with Flakt Woods, which was formerly known as Woods of Colchester.

However, workers fear the company could relocate to Eastern Europe within a matter of months if no deal is completed - giving it access to a cheap workforce that would save two-thirds on the company's wage bill alone.

Employees have been writing to the borough council expressing support for the move to Cuckoo Farm, which the company's managing director, Steven Knowles, said remained the preferred option.

“The overall cost of the project has become financially unviable because of the cost of the financial planning obligations on Tufnell Way and there have also been significant increases in the costs of the new road to access Cuckoo Farm,” explained Mr Knowles.

“So what is happening is that we have taken more time and the council is working together to overcome the costs problem, but while discussions are going on, we have agreed with the council that it won't go to planning.”

Mr Knowles said all parties were trying hard to overcome the problems and added: “At the moment, Cuckoo Farm is the preferred option and that is what we are working hard to make it work.”

Ken Jones, the borough council's Liberal Democrat, cabinet member with responsibilities for regeneration said: “We are talking to Woods about the situation and there are ongoing discussions with the officers.”

If Flakt Woods was to relocate, it would be a major blow for Colchester, which has seen the loss of much of its manufacturing industry in recent years.

John Jowers, leader of the Conservative group on the council, added it was vital the council did everything possible to keep the company in the town.

“The council has to do everything that it can to keep Woods here because the highly-skilled workers are part of the bedrock on which Colchester's manufacturing needs to be based,” he said.

Tim Young, leader of the Labour group on the council, said: “It is very worrying and of great concern and we shall be making inquiries to the council as to the situation.

“Woods is vital to the town and with many companies pulling out in recent years, it is essential that that we keep them in the town and pull out all the stops to ensure their presence remains.”

james.hore@eadt.co.uk

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