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Sweet memories of sugar production in York
You could always tell which way the wind was blowing by looking at the plume of steam coming from the factory chimney
UNTIL recently, you could always tell when the sugar beet campaign (the production process of turning raw beet into sugar) had begun in York.
A plume of white steam would drift high across the city like a banner, and that distinctive smell would descend periodically like a blanket.
It was a small price to pay for a factory that, since opening in 1926, had become a part of the fabric of York. It employed more than 100 people during a campaign and provided a market for local sugar beet farmers.
That all changed when, in 2007, Associated British Foods, British Sugar’s parent company and the factory’s owner, closed it down.
The last delivery of sugar beet was made in February 2007 – poignantly by Tollerton-based haulier Ivan Trotter, whose father Ken had delivered beet to the factory for more than 50 years.
Ivan said: “It’s nice to be here doing this because of what my dad did, but it would be nicer if we were coming back next year.”
The factory limped on for a few more months as the last beet was processed.
At the end of the year, the familiar plumes of steam were seen for one last time as the factory started producing sugar again – for one week only – as part of a bizarre scheme to secure European funding.
And that was it. Demolition work began in May 2008, and finished in July 2009. Since then the 100-acre factory site has been deserted, apart from security guards and estate managers.
The plan was always to re-develop the huge site alongside the even larger teardrop-shaped York Central site behind the railway station.
The British Sugar site would be able to accommodate up to 1,400 homes, it was hoped.
But the recession got in the way, and the plans stalled.
Until now. As reported in The Press yesterday, Associated British Foods, which still owns the site, has appointed London-based planning consultants Rapleys to develop a masterplan for redevelopment.
An initial “scoping report” has already been submitted to the city council, with a more detailed planning application expected to follow early next year.
Ultimately, the hope seems to be that the site could accommodate up to 1,300 family homes, a retail centre including business space, restaurants and bars, a community hub which could be used as a health centre, hall or primary school and even room for a tram or train stop.
Watch this space.
In the meantime, here are a few photographs showing the factory in its heyday, plume of steam and all.
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