Work on Cumbrian cheese plant set to begin soon

Partners in Cheese says it will start building a new cheese factory in Cumbria as early as April.

The business said it no longer needed any money from Cumbrian milk producers and wanted to get going as soon as possible.

The plant will have the capacity to process 600m litres of milk.

Dutch businessman Ronald Akkerman, who fronts PiC, said he had enough financial backing from other investors, and farmers would no longer be asked to take a stake in the factory.

Instead, they would be offered a direct supply contract within the week, he said.

Halted abruptly

Due diligence on PiC’s plans being conducted by a steering group of Dairy Crest Direct members was halted abruptly earlier this week.

Mr Akkerman said the due diligence process would take too long. He said he also had little confidence that the 200 DCD members in Cumbria could come up with the £8m needed.

The farmers currently supply the Aspatria creamery, which was sold by Dairy Crest to co-op First Milk last year.

Even if all the DCD members decided to sign up they would not be able to require all the milk that he required, added Mr Akkerman. He said he was confident that he could source additional supplies from elsewhere.

Disappointment and relief

It is believed that Dairy Farmers of Britain, which has a milk field of about 300m litres in the region, would supply the extra milk.

DFB and Mr Akkerman confirmed discussions had been held, but the co-op said it had not made any agreement with PiC regarding milk supply or financial support for the scheme. 

The 150 DCD members who had sent cheques for £150 to back the due diligence process overseen by development group Cumbria Vision will now get their money back.

Some are said to be disappointed that they will no longer have the opportunity to have a stake in a processing business. But others said they were relieved.

Warning bells

Most of the  DCD members are not keen to supply First Milk because they are not happy with the milk price on offer.

However, 20 had signed up by the 31 January deadline imposed by the co-op.

A First Milk spokesman said: “Like everyone else in the industry we welcomed the fact that there would be a due diligence process on Mr. Akkerman’s plans.

“This process is fundamental and would clarify, once and for all after years of talk, whether the plans stacked up.

“The fact that the due diligence process has been cancelled at such as late stage, sets off clear warning bells. Mr. Akkerman is now asking producers to sign up to supply a new creamery without providing any detail whatsoever on his business plans.”