Garden pots supplier gains planning permission for £4.5m development on Oakover Nurseries land

Vatre Terracotta, which trades as Apta, plans to build a warehouse, storage and distribution centre a six-acre parcel of surplus land near Ashford, Kent.

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.

Apta is a supplier of garden pots and planters, selling its products under its own-brand as well as other names, including the RHS and Laura Ashley.

Vatre Terracotta has a head office and distribution site at two locations in Ashford, but the firm has outgrown the facilities and spent two years looking around the town for new premises.

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.  Most recent accounts for the year to 31 December 2015 show £13.25m turnover, up from £11.64m, with £1.7m operating profit (£1.1m).

On 21 September, 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 will accommodate.

Managing director Paul Sykes said: "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.

"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.

"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.

Apta says 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.

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