A MAJOR employer in south Cumbria could be ‘forced to relocate’ if a planning application for a new building is rejected.

That was the fear raised by MP Tim Farron after it was revealed the council is set to turn down plans from Kendal Nutricare Ltd, which makes infant formula, due to concerns over the height of the proposed industrial building.

Members of South Lakeland’s local area planning committee have been recommended to refuse the application for the site on the Lake District Business Park, off Mint Bridge Road, when they meet next week.

Mr Farron wrote a letter representing Ross McMahon, CEO of Kendal Nutricare, to council planning officers. He said he ‘must remain neutral on planning matters’ but agreed to share Mr McMahon’s concerns.

The letter says: “I understand that this is a major application and I am also told that planners are minded to reject it because of the height of the proposed building. Kendal Nutricare intends to drop the height of the building by 6 metres by tapering the roof to bring it more in line with the surrounding buildings.

“Ross also wishes to point out that the UK Government has recognised that domestic production of infant formula is of strategic national importance. You may be aware of recent infant formula shortages in the USA, where production was concentrated in the hands of two companies.

“It is concerning that 85% of the UK market is also controlled by two companies and should production at either company be disrupted, we face similar shortages here in the UK.”

“Kendal Nutricare also employs 180 staff. As this application is, effectively, a crucial part of expansion plans it may help add another 50 jobs. Should this application be turned down, however, I fear that Kendal Nutricare may be forced into considering relocation.”

The proposed building would house a spray dryer, used in the manufacturing of baby formula, and would measure 41 metres tall and 30.5 metres wide, according to a report prepared for the committee meeting.

According to planning documents the existing spray dryer is a ‘bottleneck’ in the existing process and the proposed spray dryer would allow production capacity to triple without any additional expansion.

The applicant said this could lead to 50 new jobs within three years.

But planning officers have recommended the application for refusal as it would cause ‘significant harm’ to the landscape.

The report said: “The proposed building would be considerably taller than any of the surrounding buildings and would, therefore, be very prominent on the skyline of north Kendal.

“The proposed development would result in significant harm to landscape character and visual amenity and the economic benefits derived from the scheme are not considered to outweigh the harm the proposal would create, particularly given that the applicant could achieve increased production with a lower height spray dryer”, it adds.

MP for Carlisle John Stevenson also wrote a letter in support of the application. He said the decision could make the difference between long-term survival – or closure of the site.

The letter says: “As a business of national strategic importance and the sole manufacturer of infant formula in the United Kingdom – an essential, sole food source for newborn infants – I believe this development is of critical importance to the Kendal community, UK dairy farmers, national food security and the broader UK economy.

“Crucially this decision by the council comes at a pivotal moment when KNC must choose whether to continue investing in their Kendal facility (increasing jobs, local dairy intake and UK exports) or expand overseas to meet growing demand.

“Given their existing dryer is at capacity and has a limited remaining lifespan, this decision could make the difference between the long-term survival of this site and its closure.”

Members of South Lakeland local area planning committee are recommended to refuse the application when they meet on Thursday April 11 at Kendal Town Hall.