The project is expected to take less than 18 months to complete and includes a new cold-storage complex.
According to managing director Clive Goatham: "After a planning process that has spanned most of the past decade, today is a very exciting and long-anticipated day."
The grower had earlier commissioned a report by consultant Sarah Calcutt on the likely shortfall of cold-storage capacity in the UK apple industry (Grower, 6 April), which was presented to the local planning authority as part of its application submission.
English Apples & Pears chief executive Adrian Barlow hailed the investment. "Clive Goatham is one of the industry leaders and if you compare his production - the varieties, volumes and quality - with 10 years ago, it's chalk and cheese," he said.
The investment was part of a positive trend in the UK apple sector, Barlow added. "Alongside the huge investment in new orchards, we are also seeing a massive investment in pack houses and cold stores.
"This is not just at Goatham, but elsewhere in Kent and Mansfields and Newmafruit, and across the country. Producers are making better use of the space they have with things like new grading facilities."
Improved storage will lead to a longer sales season and therefore higher overall volumes, he added. "The improvements in cold storage will let us sell a lot more in April and May - we no longer have to switch to southern hemisphere fruit in mid April."
Retailers are interested in extending the season for English fruit, given the demand for local produce, according to Barlow. "But the quality of late-season fruit has to be there," he said.
Season success - Dessert apple sales up
The current season has so far gone positively for UK apple sales, according to English Apples & Pears chief executive Adrian Barlow.
"Already this year we have sold 13 per cent more dessert apples to the end of March than last year. We expect to end the season 15 per cent up and that growth will continue, given the quantity of young Gala, Braeburn and club variety trees going in."