Vatre says if approved, the relocation plan will safeguard more than 30 local jobs "that may be in jeopardy if the firm is forced to find an alternative site outside the borough".Vatre Terracotta, which supplies more than 1,000 garden centres including Wyevale and Dobbies, has a head office and distribution site at two locations in Dencora Way and nearby Leacon Road in Ashford, Kent, but the firm has outgrown the facilities and has spent two years looking for a new site.
The company has submitted plans to Ashford Borough Council relocate to a 2.4ha parcel of former consumer sales land owned by Oakover Nurseries at Tutt Hill on the A20 north west of Ashford. The proposals are for commercial use for the import, storage, sorting and distribution of garden earthenware products, plus a two-storey warehouse and office, and 32 car parking spaces.
Managing director Paul Sykes believes the land is the perfect base to enable the company to pursue expansion plans that have been curtailed by the lack of space at its overcrowded sites: "We are a growing business, an Ashford success story that’s been based in the town for more than 30 years. In 2009 we had a £6m turnover; today that is £13.5m. As we have grown we’ve had to lease adjacent buildings but that’s an expensive solution and is not sustainable in the long term.
"But after two years of searching, it has proved difficult to find the right site that meets our particular needs for a price we can afford."
Describing the Tutt Hill site as "the ideal solution", Sykes says he’s delighted to be doing business with Oakover Nurseries. "There’s a real synergy between us, the markets we supply and a mutually shared business ethos. We are both long-established Ashford companies, with a passion for customer service and supported by a loyal local workforce.
"Tutt Hill is very important to our future in Ashford because if our planning application is successful it will allow 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.
"In recent years we have made the difficult decision to decline several opportunities because we simply weren’t in a position to compete properly from our current location.
"We hope to diversify into other products, such as garden furniture, which has a natural fit to our existing products. One of our clients, the Royal Horticultural Society, approached us about supplying garden furniture but we unfortunately had to decline in the past.
"We just can’t tender for that sort of business due to lack of space at our premises but with a move to a bigger site we can invest in expansion and that will lead to more jobs and prosperity. Another option we can consider is developing online sales.
"At present we are 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 will be much more efficient, which will allow us to compete effectively for new business."
Oakover Nurseries managing director Brian Fraser said the site was 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.
A decision on the scheme by Ashford’s planning committee is expected in December.