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£30M plan for UK tomato business

By John Wood , 26-Nov-2012
Last updated the 26-Nov-2012 at 18:47 GMT

Made in the UK: SITA plans a project to produce 10% of all UK tomatoes
Made in the UK: SITA plans a project to produce 10% of all UK tomatoes

Plans for a £30M tomato growing business in Suffolk, which could produce about 10% of the UK’s tomatoes using heat from a nearby incinerator, have been unveiled.

The project ‒ which will operate under the name Sterling Suffolk ‒ has been developed by recycling and resource management company SITA UK. It is developing an incinerator at Blakenham in Suffolk with farmers Michael Blakenham and Stephen Wright, who own land nearby.

They are proposing to build two giant greenhouses, heated by surplus energy from the plant. The greenhouses would cover nearly 23ha (50 acres) and produce 7,500t of tomatoes a year.

Blakenham told FoodManufacture.co.uk that the development would be financed by a consortium of growers, and provide about 180 much-needed jobs locally.

Environmental benefits

In addition, he said it would generate environmental benefits by reducing the food miles involved in satisfying UK demand for tomatoes.

About 500,000t of tomatoes are consumed every year in the UK, but only 75,000t are produced domestically so the remainder has to be imported.

He said: “There is a big demand for locally-grown produce which can taste better than anything which has to travel over long distances.

“It is early days, and there are hurdles to overcome, but we hope to fill some of the gap in the market and at the same time bring much-needed jobs to the area.”

The incinerator is a joint venture between Suffolk County Council and SITA UK.

It will be used to generate electricity for the National Grid, and could also produce heat for local use. However, they say it would require revenue from a project, such as greenhouses, to finance the £2M cost of putting in the pipeline that would be required.

Surplus heat

Cliff Matthews, regional manager of SITA UK, said: “The plan is to heat the greenhouses using surplus heat from our energy-from-waste plant.

“The pipeline will also form the basis for a District Energy Network reaching towards Ipswich to provide huge environmental benefits.”

Blakenham said the county council and SITA UK were both backing the greenhouse proposal and Sterling Suffolk was in negotiations with a variety of marketing and growing organisations.

While details of the negotiations were covered by a confidentiality agreement, he expected the companies involved would be on board by early next year, when a planning application will be submitted to Mid Suffolk District Council.

He hoped the application would be approved by mid 2013, enabling the greenhouses to be in operation by December 2014, when the incinerator is due to come into operation.

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