A REGIONAL distribution centre for Co-op stores in the South East of England is to open next year.
The 320,000 sq ft building at Oliver Road, West Thurrock, is part of plans to rejuvenate the Co-operative Group's food distribution service in the area.
The new facility will be operational in March 2006, and will replace two smaller distribution centres at Swanley and Gillingham that will close.
All employees at Swanley and Gillingham are being given the opportunity to transfer to West Thurrock and consultations with employees and their trade union representatives will get underway this week.
A Co-operative Group spokesman said: `We have struggled for warehousing capacity for too long, particularly since the acquisition of Alldays. This has affected our service to stores and, in turn, the choice of products available to Co-op customers. This is unacceptable.
`The new distribution centre will provide a multi-temperature operation capable of serving all stores throughout the South East. It is a long term solution to our distribution needs in the region and will secure future employment for our staff, whilst giving Co-op customers the high level of product availability they expect.`
As part of the new distribution arrangements for the region the Group also plans to expand its existing distribution centre at Fareham to operate as a local service centre to stores.
This follows the expiry of the society's lease on a distribution centre at Eastleigh, and the decision of the landlord to sell the unit. The Eastleigh operation will, therefore, transfer to Fareham in autumn this year with the potential loss of 70 jobs, though everything possible is being done to minimise this number. The Group is in discussion with employees and their trade union representatives regarding redeployment opportunities.