By appointment to her majesty the queen - manufacturer of steel framed buildings A.C Bacon Engineering Ltd

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State-of-the-art giant Norfolk Onion storage facility is in operation after two year planning delay…

The 7000 tonne storage facility has been built at Larkshall, East Wretham, near Thetford, for R. G. Abrey Farms.

It is separated into three cells, 2 Nº∙ 2500 tonne bulk stores and 1 Nº∙ 2000 tonne box store. The combination of bulk and refrigerated box storage will compliment current storage on site, such that UK onions can be supplied into multiples for 11 months of the year.

The main design criteria of the new store was that it had to be energy efficient, sustainable, constructed with the very best quality materials, have the latest fan and control technology, and have the provisions to fit solar panels and to harvest the rainwater at a later date. Finally, as the site was within the curtilage of a species protected area, it had to comply with strict planning requirements.

A. C. Bacon Engineering were appointed to erect a 75 metre wide by 42 metre long steel-framed building, complete with 4m high concrete retaining walls. The whole building is insulated to a very high standard using metal clad insulated panels. Roof panels 2 metres wide and 20 metres long were chosen to lessen the number of joints, improving building efficiency and to speed up the build programme.

“The benefits due to the economy of scale, technological advances in design and equipment and by having three stores under one roof will create energy savings in excess of 20 per cent”said Robert Abrey.

After running into a brick wall with local planners, a two year delay in gaining planning approval ensued, owing to the nesting of stone curlews at the farm. Tom Abrey said “We have and have had stone curlews successfully nesting in our onion fields. It appears they favour the late forming canopy of an onion crop and the bare soil creates their perfect breeding habitat. We were therefore disappointed that legislation on the stone curlew could stop us building an onion store.”

David Feakes of Marrison Agriculture Limited, who project managed the development stated “Once the design was approved, the planning application was submitted and after a prolonged planning consultation, with the help of Natural England, RSPB, the local MP, plus a lot of behind the scene activity at the R. G. Abrey Farm office, planning permission was approved by committee in December 2011. Orders were then placed with the proviso that the site was bunded and that the main building was erected before the stone curlew breeding season in May.”

West Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss officially opened the facility at an event attended by some 200 customers and suppliers.She said “I am delighted to be opening the new onion store. Over the years R. G. Abrey have worked hard to build their business and is now one of the leading onion producers in the country. Last year I worked with the Abrey’s to ensure their future ambitions were not stifled by unnecessary red tape and bureaucracy created by the Natural Habitats Directive. The company met with DEFRA Minister Richard Benyon to secure support for their state of the art store. The Minister called on the authorities to adopt a ‘more common sense approach’. I am pleased to say the result is now a highly efficient onion store which maintains a quality product in demand across the whole of the UK.”

Robert Abrey praised the construction team by saying "It is important to us to supply a quality onion to a discerning market, so when we choose our suppliers we look for companies who share our commitment to customer service and exemplary store design. In my experience, Marrisons, Flach & Le-Roy, Farm Electronics, A. C. Bacon Engineering and Harnwell Electrical are examples of such companies who deliver quality products and second-to-none service on time and on budget."

R. G. Abrey Farms was started in 1939 by the late Russell Gordon Abrey. Now as a 3rd generation family farming business it grows combinable crops, sugar beet and specialises in early new season root vegetable production with storage for year round supply to the major multiples.

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