A LEIGH fishing family hope to revolutionise the town’s cockle industry by opening a million pound factory in Rochford.

Planning permission has been granted by Rochford District Council for a cockle factory to be built at Sutton Wharf in Rochford with hopes to streamline the industry by cooking and canning cockles locally, rather than 136 miles away in Lincolnshire.

The factory, which is costing £1million and is the product of 10 year research project, hopes to create 10 to 15 jobs locally.

Owners Michael, James and Liam Bates have planning permission to build a nine hundred square metre factory at Rochehall way Rochford for the processing of cockles which will involve cooking and canning them.

Michael Bates, 65, said: “We are going to cook and can cockles. Currently we sent our cockles to Lincolnshire to be shelled and sold. Lincolnshire is the nearest canning plant for any of the Leigh cockle fishermen.

“We have fishing boats in Leigh and cockle boats. Fruits of the Sea Ltd, a family run Leigh on Sea cockle fishing business founded in the early fifties, are about to add value to their cockle quota by moving into the processing of their shellfish catches.

“Over ten years of research and meetings across Europe have gone into this project and we are very excited to be bringing it to fruition.”

The family, who are leasing the site, need to fulfil some criteria before building starts but they hope to be ready for the beginning of the season in June.

The 63-year-old fisherman, from Leigh, continued: “We have to build it all. We have already bought all the machinery and equipment, it will all be automated.

“It will be good for the industry. Other fisherman in Leigh will have a local place where they can shell and sell their cockles.

“This will revolutionise the industry locally now they can sell them to us.

The company also owns two cockle boats 'Charlotte Joan' and 'Revenge' in Leigh old town.

Carole Mulroney, Leigh Town councillor for St Clements Wards, said that by what she has so far seen, this will benefit the cockle industry in Leigh.

She said: “The biggest thing is protecting the cockle industry in Leigh because of its historic and prime importance for our heritage and the culture of our area.

“On the face of it, this sounds like a very good idea and on what I know at the moment it looks beneficial. Our prime aim is protecting the cockle industry in Leigh and if this is beneficial in terms of transportation costs it will benefit us. Obviously anything that creates jobs is also good.”

The site owner, Graham Carter, Director at Carter and Ward, said: “The plans have gone through, which we are very pleased about. We intend to lease this business out to a local established cockle fishery.

“We own the boatyard at Sutton Wharf and deal with fisherman in the area. I think it will streamline the industry more.”

Processing at the new factory would involve the delivery of fresh cockles to the site which would then placed on a production line for de-shelling ready for storage and distribution.

The building would provide a workshop, office, and warehouse. A small cycle storage building would also be provided with parking laid out on site.

The machinery used in the process is very specialised and has been imported from Spain where they have the established expertise.

The application site is only six miles from the business’ primary landing port of Leigh-on-Sea.

The planning application says the proposal to process the cockles in Rochford will be significantly more sustainable than the current processing in Lincolnshire.

Rochford District Council planning officer state the site is situated in very close proximity to the River Roach, and adjacent to Sutton Wharf which opens up huge potential for unloading boats on the wharf and having the cockles processed with minimum transportation requirements.