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North Norfolk MP to meet with Heinz officials as petition collects more than 300 signatures

PUBLISHED: 06:30 10 October 2014 | UPDATED: 11:03 10 October 2014

North Norfolk Labour candidate Denise Burke in North Walsham asking for members of the public to sign a petition against the closure of the Westwick Heinz factory. Barbara Payne.
Picture: ANTONY KELLY

North Norfolk Labour candidate Denise Burke in North Walsham asking for members of the public to sign a petition against the closure of the Westwick Heinz factory. Barbara Payne. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2014

MP Norman Lamb is to meet Heinz officials at the closure-threatened factory near North Walsham as pressure mounts to save 200 jobs.

North Norfolk Labour candidate Denise Burke in North Walsham asking for members of the public to sign a petition against the closure of the Westwick Heinz factory. Town councillor David Spencer.
Picture: ANTONY KELLYNorth Norfolk Labour candidate Denise Burke in North Walsham asking for members of the public to sign a petition against the closure of the Westwick Heinz factory. Town councillor David Spencer. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

The MP for North Norfolk said he was keen to speak to staff at the factory in Worstead on his visit next Friday.

And a Labour party petition to pressure Heinz to either seek another contract or sell the factory to a company willing to keep the employees has collected more than 300 signatures in one day in North Walsham.

Workers were told on Wednesday that the company’s contract with William Jackson Food Group to provide frozen potato products for its Aunt Bessie’s range was to come to an end in April.

Heinz said it was “deeply disappointed” but there was not enough work to keep the factory operating.

Pub to fell effects

A pub manager in Worstead has said business will suffer if the Heinz factory closure goes ahead.

Mark Thompson, 38, is a licensee at the White Lady pub and bed and breakfast, and said company employees often stayed at the upstairs accommodation when they visited the factory.

“It will affect our business,” he said. “When the factory closes for a deep clean in the summer we regularly have people stay here. It will have a huge knock-on effect with the loss of other businesses in the last few years.”

His father-in-law has worked at the site for 28 years.

A 45-day consultation period will see the company explore alternatives to avoid or limit the impact of a potential closure.

Denise Burke, Labour’s prospective parliamentary candidate for North Norfolk, said the closure was another employment blow for the area.

“We have set up a petition for residents to support the workers in their fight to get Heinz to reconsider,” she said.

Union officials said it was a priority to provide support and representation to employees who faced losing their jobs.

The closure of the Westwick Heinz factory. Mark Thompson from The White Lady pub, Worstead.
Picture: ANTONY KELLYThe closure of the Westwick Heinz factory. Mark Thompson from The White Lady pub, Worstead. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Dave Gill, national officer for the union Usdaw, which represents most of the employees at the factory, said he was shocked by the proposal to close the factory.

Mr Gill said: “We will explore alternatives to avoid or limit the impact of a potential closure and seek the best outcome for our members.”

Local representatives for the union will begin a consultation process on Wednesday. And while those affected most by the closure will be employees, objectors say its knock-on effects will be felt by farmers, haulage companies and contractors.

Tim Papworth, chairman of the NFU potato forum, has provided potatoes to the Heinz factory in previous years. He said: “It is a loss for the farming industry to see a factory going down.”

Heinz factory at Westwick near North Walsham.
Picture: ANTONY KELLYHeinz factory at Westwick near North Walsham. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Heinz said it has also been in touch with North Norfolk District Council to keep it informed.

Linda Brown, 63, of Fairview Road in North Walsham, said her granddaughter’s partner worked at the factory. “There are no jobs in this area,” she said. “My granddaughter has a young child so I would like to see them keep it open.”

Barbara Payne, 84, of Spenser Avenue in North Walsham, worked at the site in 1948 before the factory was built. “I was the managing director’s secretary and worked there for five years. It does seem a shame it is closing. It will probably just end up derelict and a pile of rubble.”

Barbara Varney, 65, of Weavers Close in North Walsham, said: “In this area it seems they are building more houses to accommodate more people but we are losing jobs.There is not much work around here and we will just become a commuter town.”

And 18-year-old Daniel Whiting, of Church Road in Scottow, who works in catering, said the closure would create a domino effect. He said: “There are hardly any local jobs anyway. It will make it harder for everyone to find work.”

Have you been affected by the closure? Email sabah.meddings@archant.co.uk

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