2,000-job companies prepare to quit Eden

Date: Saturday 21st January 2006

WA Developments and Eddie Stobart boss Andrew Tinkler has scrapped plans to move the companies to a new headquarters in Penrith, following years of wrangling over planning permission.

Mr. Tinkler, who would have created 100 new jobs for the town, says the plans to move to the new Eden Business Park, where the company has already bought a site, are now “dead and buried” because the planners kept “changing the goalposts”.

Mr. Tinkler warned before Christmas that he might pull out of Cumbria, when he discovered that he was being asked to produce a second traffic impact survey before the county council, as highways authority, would state its opinion on whether planning permission should be granted. Talks have failed to move the process along and Mr. Tinkler says the Penrith plans are now no longer an option.

WA Developments Limited, the railway and civil engineering company owned by Mr. Tinkler and his business partner William Stobart, has been constrained at its Appleby site for some years now and it was the need to move this company which sparked the idea to base this and Eddie Stobart at one site in Penrith. WA Developments Limited’s sister company, WA Developments International, took over the haulage company in 2003.

The board now needs to decide whether all or some of the companies should remain in Cumbria or make the move to Warrington, where a 16-acre site is already in their ownership. A board meeting is scheduled to take place during the next couple of weeks to make a final decision.

Mr. Tinkler said: “As far as I’m concerned Penrith is dead and buried. The planners keep changing the goalposts. We believed we had fulfilled all the planning criteria asked for months ago, but we keep having to provide additional information.”

The final straw appears to have been a suggestion that the company looks into providing a bus service to its new premises, which Mr. Tinkler felt was unreasonable.

The 90 administration staff employed by WA Developments at Appleby will be greatest affected, as they would have to move to any new headquarters.

However, the new Penrith jobs will also be lost to the district and Mr. Tinkler has admitted that the remaining 300 Appleby staff could “dwindle off” if the company moves to Warrington, due to the difficulties of working for a company based so far away.

The three companies already employ more than 2,000 people across the country.

A spokesman for Eden Council said that the planning application was still lodged with the authority at this stage and he could not comment any further while this remained the case.