Ashford-based Vatre Terracotta Ltd, which trades as Apta, has secured planning permission for a £4.5m warehouse, storage and distribution centre.
Apta is the UK’s leading supplier of garden pots and planters, selling its products under its own-brand as well as other prestigious names, including the Royal Horticultural Society and Laura Ashley.
Vatre Terracotta has a head office and distribution site at two locations in Dencora Way and nearby Leacon Road, but the firm has outgrown the facilities and spent two years scouring Ashford for a new home. Sales have doubled in the last eight years to £14m, and the company now supplies more than 1,200 customers throughout the UK and Ireland.
The relocation plan safeguards more than 30 local jobs and will also enable additional staff to be employed as the business continues to grow. It will also reduce traffic in the town centre, especially HGVs and containers.
On Wednesday (21 Sept) Ashford’s planning committee heard that the company’s future in the Ashford borough would have been in jeopardy if it had been forced to find an alternative site outside the area. Councillors were unanimous in granting consent, subject to a number of conditions which the company is very happy to accommodate.
The development site is a six-acre parcel of surplus land owned by Oakover Nurseries at Tutt Hill on the A20 north west of Ashford, opposite the Holiday Inn Ashford North hotel. The plans cover commercial use for the import, storage, sorting and distribution of Apta’s products, plus a two-storey office and a showroom for the company’s customers and partners to view its products.
Managing Director Paul Sykes says he is delighted to have secured the go-ahead for the site, which he believes is the perfect base to enable the company to pursue expansion plans that have been curtailed by the lack of space at its current site.
“We are a growing business, an Ashford success story that’s been based in the town for more than 30 years. But by 2013 we were already starting to outgrow our current site. The owners were determined to keep the company in Ashford, but it took us a further two years of searching to find an alternative site in the borough.
“We’re absolutely delighted that Ashford Borough Council has approved our plans and we look forward to working with them to ensure that we satisfy the conditions attached to the consent.
“Tutt Hill is very important to our future in Ashford because it enables us to remain in the town for the foreseeable future. The A20 site is big enough for us to expand; it’s got excellent vehicle access and is convenient for the M20 and for our imports by road from Europe. It’s also within easy reach of Ashford so our existing workforce will have good access, and, above all, it’s affordable.”
He says the bigger site will allow the firm to expand. “In recent years we had to make the very difficult decision to decline several opportunities because we simply weren’t in a position to compete properly from our current location.
“At the new site we will have the opportunity to diversify into other similar items which compliment our existing products and customer base, and consider ways to co-operate with other local companies also supplying the horticultural trade.”
The company also believes that the new site will deliver important financial benefits by consolidating all of its activities onto one site with excellent transport links outside central Ashford. Paul adds: “At present we’re constantly moving stock from one location to another, which is costly and inefficient. By bringing all of our activity together on one site close to the town and M20 we won’t have to double-handle the goods, which is a great benefit.”
Brian Fraser of Oakover Nurseries welcomed the decision to grant planning consent for the development. He explained that the site was formerly used as a bulking plant for the nearby M20 construction works and today is easily accessed by an established apron off the A20. The land previously housed a consumer sales operation for shrubs and trees.