Dutch entrepreneur Ronald Akkerman’s long and bruising journey towards establishing a new cheese plant in Cumbria seems to have cleared a major hurdle with about 150 Dairy Crest Direct members backing the project.

The farmers are from a group of about 200 DCD members who currently supply First Milk’s Aspatria factory with about 200m litres, which the co-op bought from Dairy Crest last year.

They are looking for a new buyer for their milk because they do not feel the co-op will pay enough when their Dairy Crest contracts expire in October.

Although their commitment so far only extends to writing out a cheque for £250 to fund a due diligence process on Mr Akkerman’s plans, there is said to be little enthusiasm for any of the other options that will be presented to them at a meeting organised by Dairy Crest Direct on 23 January.

Other than supplying first Milk, the potential line up is thought to include co-op Dairy Farmers of Britain, Meadow Foods and Lactalis, owner of cheesemaker McLellands.

If the farmers accept the outcome of the due diligence process, which is being overseen by local development body Cumbria Vision and is targeted to be finished by 12 February, Mr Akkerman said he hoped to start building the £50m factory at Lillyhall, near Workington, this April, with the plant up and running 12 months later.