An application has been lodged with Thanet council to change the former student accommodation block that served the Christ Church University campus at Broadstairs into a House of Multiple Occupation for workers.
Thanet Earth had made a pre-application for views on onsite workers accommodation at Birchington but concerns were raised about impacts on the character of the area.
Now the greenhouse complex business hopes to use the Northwood Court site which consists of 85 units of former student accommodation and 1 warden flat to provide accommodation for its staff.
Thanet Earth is the UK’s largest single production site growing salad crops under glass. There are currently around 700 staff at peak time in a mixture of skilled and unskilled roles employed over the whole site, including the packhouse and glasshouses. The facility operates all year round supplying British supermarkets.
Thanet Earth is a joint venture with the Fresca Group Ltd.
‘Accommodation for up to 84 workers’
Planning documents state: “Temporary and seasonal labour is a common feature of the supply chain and the potential risk for ethical issues is taken seriously. Fresca is committed to reducing the risk of slavery and human trafficking within their own business and supply chains.
“This application follows a pre-application enquiry with TDC in respect of siting modular accommodation on the main site in Birchington. The response indicated that such a proposal would unlikely be viewed favourably by officers, with encouragement being made to consider alternative solutions within the existing urban areas.
“The application building comprises 86 rooms, with this proposal providing accommodation for up to 84 workers, with 2 wardens. The warden’s flats will house a day shift manager and a night shift manager, meaning the building is supervised at all times when the workers are present. The wardens will be first aid trained and act as fire wardens, in addition to being able to assist with any welfare issues and general maintenance. The client will be operating the building as they do their workplace to ensure it is a safe place for all workers.
“The accommodation will also provide provision for seasonal peak workers when the labour demands are more intense.
“Whilst the number of workers within the building may be high, vehicle movements generated from the proposal will remain low. The workers will be transported to and from the Thanet Earth site in Birchington by a 53 seat coach.
“Thanet Earth will also be providing communal cycles to be used by the workers at the proposed accommodation, promoting sustainable methods of transport to the local amenities in the area. Workers will also be encouraged to cycle to work.”
Decline of affordable properties
The planning document outlines the decline in available and affordable properties in Thanet and says the lack of workers accommodation is starting to have a negative impact on the business.
The report, by RPS Group, says: “The past few years have seen a dramatic decline in available and affordable properties in the Thanet area. In recent years, Thanet Earth has taken on around 400 new workers to work in the glasshouse facilities at Birchington. The new workers have varied between short term workers, whilst others have been employed for the longer term projects. It is envisaged these increased numbers will be required on an annual basis.
“Over a 12 month period, Thanet Earth has recruited 117 employees, 44 of whom have been recruited internally and retained. 17 skilled positions have been recruited and 13 retained. 56 operations positions have been recruited, and 24 retained (15 if those retained have been employed within the last 6 months).
“Recent data shows that approximately 60-70% of workers need housing as part of their new assignment. Where there is a lack of housing, this can result in negative impacts on the sector and business, as some workers will have to wait to start their employment, whilst others will be lost to businesses outside Thanet should accommodation be available.”
Thanet Earth says the problem can lead to disruption, including delayed production runs; increase in produce waste and a loss of orders.
In October 2018, Savills Estate agents were appointed to market the premises along with the nearby Allen & Carey Buildings which also formed part of the Christ Church University Broadstairs Campus complex.
The premises were being offered for sale (freehold) as a collective or separately, with Northwood Court being offered as one lot and the Allen & Carey buildings as a separate lot.
Nelson College London proceeded with an offer in September 2021 for all the buildings and the purchase completed in May 2022.
However, Nelson College decided it would not require all of the buildings and issued instructions to market the facility for sale or let, either as three separate units or as a collective in May 2022.
In November 2022 Nelson College agreed to let the Northwood Court premises to Clearsprings Ready Homes who provide accommodation for asylum seekers under contract to the Home Office. Some occupants were moved into the premises but it was noted that certain conditions of the lease had not been met. The occupants were removed, and the lease was revoked.
The Thanet Earth application solely relates to the Northwood Court building. Nelson College London are planning use of part of the campus site with Roostys Bakery now installed in the Allen building.
The application for workers’ accommodation is yet to be decided by Thanet council.
The Roostys Bakery soft opening is on Bank Holiday Monday, 11am to 2pm. There will be a bouncy castle, music, free snacks and tea (whilst stocks last). The bakery will officially open the following morning.
An update from the Nelson College team says it looks like the Thanet Earth bid will not progress – https://theisleofthanetnews.com/2023/05/29/nelson-college-london-will-start-courses-this-september-at-former-christ-church-campus-in-broadstairs/