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New jobs to follow as JF McKenna looks set to win approval for huge expansion

A huge extension by a family-run business in Armagh – which is expected to create 10 new jobs – looks set to be given the go-ahead this week, Armagh I can reveal.

And it will not be before time, as news of the proposed development – part of an investment of more than £4 million – was first revealed in 2014.

The extension by JF McKenna on the Cathedral Road has been held up for a variety of reasons, despite the submission of a planning application in March 2015.

It was the year before that the company – which has been operating in Armagh for the best part of six decades – detailed ambitions to expand and diversify operations at the somewhat limited site.

There has been much correspondence in the intervening period to resolve various issues.

But now planning officials are recommending that the work – which would see the premises extended by more than 2,000 sq metres – can go ahead.

Of course that will still have to go before Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council’s planning committee when it meets this Wednesday, December 14.

The proposal is for the expansion of the premises to provide storage unit linked to the existing building, vehicle forecourt, perimeter security fencing and additional car parking area to the front.

Over £4 million is being pumped into the export-led expansion, with Invest NI contributing £422,000 of that to help “aid the development of the company profile in markets beyond Northern Ireland”.

Invest NI had written a letter to the planning authorities supporting the proposals, back in April last year. It said the new facilities would position the company as a “leading provider of products and services to the horticultural sector and beyond”.

It was an export-led plan which, it was estimated, would bring an additional £230,000 in wages and salaries to the city annually, with the recruitment of 10 posts, four of them at managerial level.

Managing director Brendan McKenna described it as a “substantial investment” which would allow the business to diversify into plastic packaging for other products.

The business – which currently employs 50 people – was founded by John F McKenna in 1960 and was among the first mushroom growing entrepreneurs in Ireland. It was established to supply cost-effective packaging and sundries to the mushroom industry in Ireland and the UK.

As a result of customer and industry changes, it diversified into the poultry and horticultural sectors.

A supporting statement was compiled by a team of planning consultants on behalf of the Armagh business.

It says the business has “continued to develop and further expand the product range and services they offer to the mushroom industry both locally and internationally”.

And it adds: “The site is operating beyond capacity due to the installation of new machinery. Consequently, the business has to use off-site storage to maintain operational requirements.

“Whilst developing its diversification and export plans, the company purchased vacant land immediately adjacent to its premises in 2012 with a view to utilising it for storage once their business plan was agreed.”

It pointed out the company was facing an “urgent need to expand to meet customer demands and contractual obligations”.

Off-site storage, it argues, it not “economically sustainable”, while approval would allow an “important business to secure and increase its operations in a suitable manner”.

The application will go before councillors with a recommendation to approve when the planning and regulatory services committee sits this week.

Subject to its backing – and full ratification at statuory council – the work will finally be allowed to go ahead.

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