Threat posed to Ely businessman’s future prospects if he loses battle to retain mobile homes for Eastern European workers

These are the mobile homes at Padro House, Chittering, that have been refused permission to remain b

These are the mobile homes at Padro House, Chittering, that have been refused permission to remain by East Cambs Council. - Credit: Archant

Stephen Ripley has told East Cambs planners his business could be threatened if he is forced to remove three mobile homes that house up to 15 eastern European workers.

Mr Ripley of Ely runs Produce Connections and Pretoria Energy from Padro House at Chittering and last year was refused retrospective permission to retain the mobile homes.

Now he has resubmitted an application to East Cambs District Council together with an 11 page report from chartered surveyor Peter Chillingworth explaining how vital retention of the homes is to his business.

He explains that Mr Ripley bought Padro House 20 years ago and has built up a successful potato business from there and rents 800 acres to grow and store up to 20,000 tonnes annually. When all stores are full the wholesale value can be around £4 million.

He also launched Pretoria Energy five years ago that houses an anaerobic digestion (AD) plant supplying gas to the national grid.

Up to 40 staff work there including eastern Europeans “some on a full-time basis, but most on a seasonal basis”.

To accommodate this flexible workforce workers he has, for 10 years, housed them in three large mobile homes.

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“These three homes had become outdated and slightly run down and a new site was chosen that is safer and better,” said Mr Chillingworth. New homes were bought and put on a new site but an application for retrospective consent was refused, as was a bid for a certificate of lawfulness – the move to a new site precluded them from complying with the 10-year rule.

“Mr Ripley is now in a serious situation,” says Mr Chillingworth. “If he fails to regularise the positions of his workers’ accommodation and the mobile homes have to be removed, the business is in genuine difficulties. It is no exaggeration to say he is unlikely to be able to continue without housing a significant number of his staff on site.”

He said the present uncertainty had affected the moral of his workers” and must be resolved as soon as possible”.

Mr Chillingworth said that with “considerable uncertainty” over the future status of foreign workers because of Brexit the provision of a permanent hostel was out of the question.

“It would not be prudent for permanent arrangements to be put in place for the time being,” he said.

He also explained that a serious lack of affordable housing in East Cambridgeshire made it virtually impossible for find other accommodation for his workers and even then transport would be an issue.

“Future reliance on such workers is problematic due to Brexit. Thus the business has to remain flexible with regard to its long term need to house worker,” said Mr Chillingworth.

He hopes planners will agree to full permission for the homes or to agree a renewable temporary licence.