Huge 'world-first' tomato greenhouse outside Norwich set to create hundreds of jobs
PUBLISHED: 08:12 03 October 2019 | UPDATED: 11:46 03 October 2019
A vast tomato greenhouse covering an area larger than the O2 Arena will be built outside Norwich as part of a £120m project creating 360 new jobs in Norfolk and Suffolk.
The development, on the Colman family's Crown Point Estate east of Trowse, is one of two "world-first" buildings which will be warmed using waste heat from Anglian Water treatment facilities - a model aimed at reducing the carbon footprint of agriculture.
The second greenhouse will be constructed at Ingham, outside Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk. Project managers said the combined development will cover a total of 29 hectares, equivalent to about 47 international football pitches, and will be capable of producing 12pc of the UK's tomatoes.
The plans were announced by Greencoat Capital, the UK's largest renewable energy investor. A spokesman for the firm said: "Decarbonisation of the heating and agriculture sectors has so far been disappointingly slow despite their enormous carbon output.
"These pioneering greenhouses make a significant step towards solving both problems at scale, reducing the carbon footprint of food produce by 75pc compared to European equivalents and increasing UK food security."
The construction phase of the project will begin immediately, said the firm, with completion expected in autumn 2020. Commercial-scale growers from the UK and the Netherlands have already committed to leasing the space.
The greenhouses, developed by Oasthouse Ventures, will be among the largest ever constructed in the UK. Standing around 7m tall, the structures allow crops to grow vertically along guidewires without the need for any soil - instead, they are grown hydroponically from nutrient-rich water solutions.
Once they are fully operational, Greencoat Capital said the two greenhouses will be capable of growing more than 20 tonnes of tomatoes every day, and will create 360 permanent jobs "in the local area", plus another 120 seasonal jobs during the peak picking season.
Fiona Sarson, estate director at Crown Point Estate, said: "We are delighted to be involved in the development of this exciting new project.
"The estate, through the Colman family, has always looked to support its local communities, and during the discussions with Oasthouse Ventures we were keen to ensure that the site helped job creation in the area.
"As a consequence, they agreed to prioritise the recruitment of staff from the local community, giving priority to anyone who is interested in a role and lives within a five-mile radius of the site. We hope that by championing this type of initiative people will be able to live and work in rural environments, and play a key role in continuing to support the viability of our villages and towns."
The greenhouses will provide optimum growing conditions for a range of plants and vegetables requiring high-heat, and relatively low-light environments, such as tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers.
Closed loop heat pumps will be used to transfer the heat from the water recycling centres to the greenhouses to accelerate the growth of the plants, and capture the majority of the carbon - with the added effect of cooling treated water outflow before it is returned to the environment.
Dr Lu Gilfoyle, head of environmental quality at Anglian Water, said: "It has been great to be involved in such an innovative project, helping to solve a number of challenges for Anglian. Removing excess heat from the river systems is a priority for Defra and ourselves, and it is fantastic to be able to put that heat energy to good use."
James Samworth, a partner at Greencoat Capital, said: "Technology and cross-sector co-operation is continuing to unlock some amazing possibilities in energy and agriculture. We see considerable opportunity to invest in renewable heat in the UK, providing pensions investors with the predictable returns they require to pay beneficiaries, meanwhile reducing our carbon emissions as an economy."