It has emerged that Ebac, the cooler and dehumidifier manufacturer, is planning to move to £7m facilities to make its own fridges, if planners give the go-ahead for a new Tesco supermarket on its current factory site.
Ebac is applying to Wear Valley District Council for planning permission for a supermarket, petrol station and car parking facilities to be built on the St Helen Trading Estate in Bishop Auckland, where it has been based for more than 20 years.
The business, which employs around 300 people, is housed in a 50-year-old building which company chairman John Elliott says it is no longer fit for purpose.
"What we need is to improve our facilities," he said.. "We need an open plan, more efficient site. It is piecemeal "“ three-quarters of the building was built in the 1950s. It just isn't appropriate."
The idea of moving to a new plant initially surfaced when Mr Elliott visited a fridge factory in Turkey, where the company currently imports fridges to sell on to its customers. He said: "It was laid out properly. It is possible to make fridges in the UK if you are efficient. We would like to build fridges here, if we can get the facilities. It costs more to bring a fridge over from Turkey that to make it here." Ebac is looking at a number of possible sites near its factory. Buying and fitting out a new factory and office complex would cost an estimated £6m to £7m, Mr Elliott said.
However, planners must first be convinced that the area needs another supermarket and an initial decision on whether the plans can go ahead is not expected until next year.
Mr Elliott said if the plans were turned down, he would have to look again at the Bishop Auckland site.
"We would have to rethink what we do. We certainly can't develop as we'd like to. You have got to grow or you are going to shrink," he said.
"We are a Bishop Auckland company. As a last resort we would move manufacturing abroad, which I don't want to do. We don't just manufacture here, we have the administration, design etc. The headquarters are here. We want to stay in Bishop Auckland."
The proposed move would secure jobs with Ebac. Although Mr Elliott said jobs were not threatened, a new facility would lead to more employment for the town. "In the long term yes, but it's more about maintaining the jobs we have now," he said.