ATTEMPTS are ongoing to bring the former Kilmeaden cheese factory site back into use. It’s believed the site, which is still in the ownership of Glanbia, is the subject of interest from investors.
However, IDA Ireland says it is awaiting communication from Glanbia with regard to plans which would enable the agency to actively market the site. Established in the 1960s, the Kilmeaden cheese factory won numerous awards over the years for its world-famous ‘fillet of cheddar’.However, Glanbia management decided to close the plant at the end of its seasonal production cycle in 2006, with all cheese production being transferred to Ballyragget in North Kilkenny.Recently, Glanbia announced plans to bolster its position as Europe’s leading mozzarella cheese manufacturer with the opening of a new €130 million production plant in County Laois.The company and its US partner Leprino will develop a major new facility in Portlaoise which will see the creation of 78 jobs.
A site for the proposed plant has already been identified.
Once completed, the plant is expected to have the capacity to produce 45,000 tonnes of cheese annually when fully operational, making it one of the biggest mozzarella facilities in Europe.
While the announcement has been warmly greeted in the Midlands, local Councillors in Waterford have pointed out that a prominent former Glanbia site remains idle in Kilmeaden.
Cllr Davy Daniels (Ind) said he was disappointed and surprised that Waterford had been overlooked for the development of such an ambitious project.
“Enterprise Ireland stated there was serious competition for this development. Was Waterford considered for this development?” said Cllr Daniels.
“Prior to the merger of Waterford Foods and Avonmore, it was clearly stated that jobs would always be the first concern for the region. Despite commitments that were given, we have seen three plants close in Waterford – Snowcream, the Kilmeaden cheese factory, and a plant in Dungarvan.”
He continued: “Although a financial section was retained in Dungarvan, and the Belview plant was opened, Waterford has been at a major loss overall.” Cllr Daniels highlighted that Kilmeaden is the home of cheddar, has a tradition of cheese making and remains a renowned and popular brand of cheese. He said the Kilmeaden site is in a “prime location” with convenient access to the N25, M9 and the Port of Waterford. In addition, the site has ample amenities such as water, gas, electricity and constructed wetlands for treatment of waste water. “Look at the benefit this would bring to the region,” he said, pointing out that Kilmeaden is currently at risk of losing its post office.
He said the “excellent” work undertaken by Dr Ray Griffin through the South-East Economic Monitor highlights the urgent need for more jobs in the region.Cllr Daniels acknowledged the work of Cllr John O’Leary (FF) who has consistently raised issues associated with Kilmeaden and the cheese factory site. Cllr O’Leary was recently part of a group which met with IDA Regional Business Development Manager for the South-East Brendan McDonald which included Deputy Mary Butler and Cllr Ray Murphy. Confidence was expressed at the meeting that investment can be sourced for the site, according to Cllr O’Leary.
“With the advancement of WIT as a technological university, the site is ideally placed for something in the tech area,” he said. Cllr O’Leary believes this is feasible given that there is now “new optimism” in relation to the technological university bid.“For Mid County Waterford to prosper we need industry as we are losing too many people from the area,” he said. He pointed out that utilising the site is part of economic development plan of Waterford City & County Council.Cllr O’Leary also highlighted the grim findings of the recent South-East Economic Monitor. He said the cheese factory provided employment for many people from the surrounding areas including Butlerstown, Kill, Bonmahon, Dunhill and Kilmacthomas and believes new activity at the site would provide a huge lift to the region.
“The closure of the plant was a huge loss for the locality,” said Cllr O’Leary. “Kilmeaden Cheese is known all over the world. While we still have the brand name, Kilmeaden doesn’t have the employment.” Responding to a query from The Munster Express in relation to Glanbia’s new plant in Laois and the possible consideration of Kilmeaden as a location, a spokesperson for Enterprise Ireland said: “Ireland was competing against international locations for this project. Many locations in Ireland were considered and the final choice is one that was made by the investor taking a wide range of factors into consideration. It will be Europe’s largest mozzarella plant.”An IDA Spokesperson confirmed to The Munster Express that Regional Business Development Manager for the South East, Brendan McDonald and his Executive Assistant Fiona Lonergan met on May 25th last, in the Waterford IDA office, with Deputy Butler and two county councillors.
“The purpose of the meeting was for a general update on IDA activity,” the spokesperson said.
“The Kilmeaden Site was mentioned but we confirmed that it is not in IDA ownership, it is owned by Glanbia. We advised that we market in the usual manner for large scale projects of scale, with a view to engagement with Glanbia if a client was interested. Glanbia was to come back to us with their plans for the site and we continue to await word from them.”
However, a Glanbia spokesperson told The Munster Express this week that there are “no immediate plans” for the development of the Kilmeaden site.
“Although Kilmeaden is no longer processing cheese, an adjacent site is now the location of a Glanbia CountryLife home and garden store,” the spokesperson said.
“A new, purpose-built 4,000 sq. ft. retail outlet and garden centre was built in Kilmeaden alongside the original branch and officially opened in November 2006, employing 10 people.”
She pointed out that, as a group, Glanbia has spent €580 million on capital expenditure in Ireland over the past five years.
“Most recently, this has included the announcement of a €160 million investment in its site at Belview on the Waterford-Kilkenny border in March 2018. This investment will result in new activities at the Belview facility, which was first opened in 2015, and lead to the installation of a new third dryer and other processing equipment which will produce infant formula products destined for global export markets.”She added: “It is expected that the new facility in Belview will be operational by 2020 and this investment will directly result in the creation of 83 new full-time jobs as well as supporting 400 jobs during the two-year construction phase of the project. There will also be a significant knock-on effect from this investment in the wider economy both regionally and nationwide.”