A Dubai-based sugar refining business has submitted an outline planning application to build a new sugar-beet processing and sugar refining plant in North Yorkshire, according to local reports. But a former British Sugar executive describes the plans as unrealistically ambitious.

The site is the former Allerton Quarry, a 65 acre site close to the AI trunk road between York and Harrogate. The application comes from Al Khaleej International, a subsidiary of Al Khaleej Sugar which opened what it claims is the world’s largest sugar refinery in Dubai a decade ago. This facility processes raw sugar imports into an annual 1.5 million tonnes of refined sugars and related products for sale on international markets.

The proposed UK plant could be commissioned by 2020 and would have the capacity to slice up to 36,000 tonnes of beet per day during the winter harvest campaign. The company envisages a supply chain of around 3,500 growers, primarily located in the north east. There would also be co-product streams for the animal feed market.

British Sugar closed its former York sugar beet factory at the end of the 2006/07 harvest, citing changes to the EU sugar regime that phased out beet quotas for its decision. The site has since been levelled.

“Proposals for a new sugar beet processing facility in North Yorkshire are welcome news for the industry,” comments NFU sugar board chairman Michael Sly. “Farmers in the region were disappointed when the British Sugar factory closed in 2007 – it is encouraging that investors are considering a new, larger plant in the area. It would be the first sugar beet factory built in the UK for 90 years and represents a considerable vote of confidence for the sector.”

But independent agricultural consultant Robin Limb, who worked for British Sugar, is more cautious.  He points to the “astronomical” cost involved in constructing the plant, which can only process beet for half the year, plus the time and effort needed to rebuild grower supply and reinvestment in the specialised kit to grow and harvest the crop.

By contrast, he says, the UK’s largest sugar plant at Wissington has a maximum capacity of some 20,000 tonnes a day, and British Sugar’s beet requirement across its four factories is met by 3,000 growers.   Furthermore, the domestic sugar market will change post-Brexit – Tate & Lyle campaigned to leave the EU in order to benefit from less restricted raw cane sugar imports for processing in the UK. “I’ll be watching with interest to see if these proposals actually come to anything,” Mr Limb comments.