Wednesday, 1 April 2009

No more orchids from Taiwan

Just over two years ago, in February 2007, an ambitious new facility opened at Manchester Airport World Freight Centre, the Pangaean Freight Centre, for air freighted perishable produce - food, fruit vegetables, fish, flowers which require temperature control. The Pangaean Centre had big ambitions and Manchester Evening News reported that the centre was importing more than 600 boxes of herbs and watercress a week, and 100 rare orchids. Some of these orchids were from Taiwan.

The chilled handling facility was predicted to achieve a turnover of £1.5 million by 2010, and aimed to triple volumes from 6,000 tonnes in the first year to 18,000 tonnes in year two, and grow its pharmaceuticals business in addition to the food and flowers. Situated near Junction 6 of the M56 motorway it was in a prime position to access many of the major supermarkets distribution networks. Founder John Crofts was hailed for his business acumen including speaking at the international Air Cargo Handling conference in 2008.

But at the end of March 2009, Pangaean freight centre ceased trading. Three jobs have been lost, but it is remarkable that there was such a small number of jobs, for a facility of over 8,000 sq ft. The closure of the Pangaean Centre also raises the question of what has happened to the government loan that helped to establish it.

In the face of Pangaean’s failure, and freight volumes which have plummeted every month since April 2008, Manchester Airport still plans to increase freight volumes to 250,000 tonnes a year by 2015. The freight growth plans would entail the demolition of Rose Cottage, a listed building surrounded by a rare wildlife oasis in this heavily urbanised area, which includes a 300 year old pond with a colony of rare crested newts. The Save Rose Cottage Campaign is opposing this development.

The closure of the Pangaean Freight Centre does not necessarily mean that the UK is reducing its dependence on air freighted food and flower imports. Prepared fruit salads into Heathrow and fish to Gatwick are still holding up, and the UK is a key destination for prepared vegetables from Thailand landing at Munich in Germany, which are then shipped and trucked here.

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