Gordon Favor Parker, one of two rival grain-merchants in the village, frustrated in his plans to build a grain-store and mill outside Stoke Ferry, buys up village-centre properties and erects a mill in the village centre on their land, months before new UK planning-legislation would have prevented him from doing so. Considerable concern is expressed at the time at the visual dominance of the building, but the Favor Parker mill employs a substantial number of villagers.
The mill, which is dependent on tonnage, is not gravity-fed, as a more efficient modern mill would ideally be.
The former Duke’s Head hotel becomes the Favor Parker Social Club. Endeavours are made by the company to clean neighbours’ windows of dust, and to tidy the village square of dust and grain-spillages.
Parker’s rival’s business declines.
The architectural historian, Niklaus Pevsner, details the extraordinary built historical legacy of the village centre as ‘exceptional’.
The village’s historic centre is designated by the Council as a Conservation Area,
Mrs. Doris Coates, a friend of Gordon Parker’s, publishes Stoke Ferry: The Story of a Norfolk Village. The book acknowledged the employment which the mill brings to the community, while detailing the notable history of the buildings which border it.
The mill is hugely expanded. Self’s field is purchased with a view to further expansion, but concerned villagers, by insisting on the retention of the ancient right of way along the central village footpath, prevent this from happening.
A Favor Parker chicken-feed mill, inappropriately-sited at Robertsbridge in Sussex, is relocated by their local council.
Protests to Favor Parker continue, including (for example) representations by Norwich solicitors Flatman, that ‘the nuisance is quite intolerable’.
Favor Parker are forced by environmental protestors and by North Norfolk council, to close their operation at Wells-next-the-Sea.
Residents of the Furlong Road protest about the state of the entrance to the weighbridge, and about dust and dangerous after-dark lorry movements. Peter Burgess, Favor Parker’s transport manager, admits that ‘as we have no other space for vehicles, this will obviously have to continue’.
The A134, which carries heavy traffic through the village, is diverted to a bypass. This starves out a number of smaller local businesses, adding weight to the relative importance of the mill to local jobs. Although at its height, it is employing some 200 villagers, the introduction of computerisation is forcing this into decline.
Historic buildings in the village, relieved from the damage being caused by heavy traffic, begin to be restored. The environmental depredations of the mill are by contrast thrown into sharper relief.
Legal action is threatened by a Norfolk resident against a lorry-driver operating for Favor Parker using ‘bad and threatening language’ to a Council member.
Adrian Parker (no relation), Chief Planning Officer of the KL Council, produces a survey saying that ‘the character of Stoke Ferry has been eroded by heavy lorry traffic and the deterioration of some of its finest buildings.’ He recommends the screening of the plant and the carrying out of urgent and major renovation to several listed buildings which are becoming ‘drab, dirty and totally out of character’. Geoff Allen, one of Favor Parker’s directors, objects to the Council’s ‘dictatorial attitude’.
A major village campaign to relocate the mill outside the village, backed by the Lynn News, is thwarted by the threat of legal action by the mill owners, including Michael Parker (son of Gordon). However, the campaigners do succeed in preventing the use of the High Street by Favor Parker’s HGVs, and in setting up a Liaison Committee to address the constant complaints from residents. The directors of the mill admit that the site is ‘very far from ideal,’ but insist that there is no prospect of its being moved.
In the early 90s, after a big investment by Favor Parker, the mill is producing nearly 10,000 tonnes p.w. The quality of its feed is lower: 70% feed/30% grain-dust. The increase of use of vegetable oil in the pelleting in the mid-90s enables the machines to operate more quickly. Now largely computerised, the mill is producing perhaps 7,500 tonnes p.w.
Because of automation, employment of the villagers by Favor Parker steadily diminishes.
The Council’s review of the Conservation Area heavily criticises the visual dominance of the mill buildings, the noise/dust/smell emitted by it, and the lorry traffic which it generates.
Mrs. Sanderson of Furlong House threatens legal representation against the mill after a mill lorry snaps a telephone-cable, nearly blinding her husband.
British Sugar constructs a purpose-built relief road to take HGV traffic from the A134 to their site at Wissington.
Favor Parker sells the mill and its operational sites to Grampian Foods, a Scottish-based consortium.
The Social Club (Duke’s Head) is closed and put up for sale. It has remained vacant and decaying ever since.
Grampian are more interested in the poultry-processing operations than in the mill, and do not substantially invest either in the plant or in the fabric of the mill.
The Liaison Committee, angered that the constant barrage of complaints of noise, smell and dust-pollution is going unheeded, makes representations to the Lynn News, which writes a headline article about the factory, saying How on earth have they managed to get away with it for so long?
The Grade II village church, on the Conservation Area’s eastern border, is closed and bought by a resident in order to prevent its threatened use as a scrapyard.
EU environmental legislation forces the installation of dust and odour filters and a new factory chimney.
Another attempt to have the factory relocated results in the ‘Stoke Ferry Parish Plan’, produced by villagers in tandem with the Council. Christopher Fraser, MP for West Norfolk, prefaces it saying ’Village life is greatly enhanced by amenities like the village hall and the post-office. Controlled, mixed developments on brownfield sites is the preferred way forward…’
The report states that ‘certain aspects of Grampian Foods’ operations are a drawback to the village, namely neglected historic buildings in the village centre and smell, dust, heavy traffic, and noise’… ’Even today, some of the fine listed houses in the centre of the village are being used as store rooms by one of the remaining grain-feed mills, formerly a local, family-owned business, but now owned by the Scottish firm, Grampian foods.’
The report also states that ‘representation needs to be made to the Post Office Ltd that Stoke Ferry’s Post Office is an essential amenity, becoming even more so as the population grows.’
It notes that ‘the Duke’s Head, in the very heart of the village, has been boarded up for many years. Some would like to see it renovated and lived in, whilst other suggestions are that it could be used for a business or health centre. Leaving it empty has a very negative impact on the Hill area.’
It concludes that ‘some of the operations of Grampian Foods have a detrimental effect on the lives of people living in the village’.
The village of Burston in Suffolk, which has a feed mill the location of which requires HGVs to pass through it, gains a night-time curfew after residents’ protests.
Grampian Foods in its turn sells the mill to a Dutch-based international consortium, Vion Foods. Vion in their turn, more interested in pork-production, do not invest in the mill, which degrades into rapidly-accelerating decay.
The national legalisation of 44-tonne HGVs, an increase from the 40-tonne previous limit, arouses more protest. Grampian agrees to limit the number of overnight lorry-movements. Their attempt to increase the number of operational hours, from six to seven days/nights a week, is curtailed by the Environmental Department of the KL Council on the grounds that this would entail a considerable increase of nuisance to residents.
Vion Foods sells the mill to 2Sisters, owned by a West Midlands businessman, Ranjit Boparan. 2Sisters operation is transferred to a new company, owned by the same Boparan directorship, called 2Agriculture. (2Agriculture initially did not want the mills, and they were about to be sold to ABM until the separation of 2Sisters and 2Agriculture rendered the mills potentially profitable).
Over the following years, Boparan buys, amongst other concerns, the Bernard Matthews company, and further grain mills, for example, at Bawsey. His mill at Ingliston, outside Edinburgh, is sold for redevelopment, with the declared intention of building a new modern mill at Rosyth.
New plant has been invested in under 2Ag: a gas boiler (which could be transported to a new site).
British Sugar begins to diversify its operation at Wissington, to include the growing of medicinal cannabis.
Richard Coates begins editing a reprint of his mother Doris’s 1979 history of the village, this time (in view of the subsequent decay and depredations, and the dwindling to a sliver of local employment – currently around half a dozen) expressing the view that the mill should be relocated.
The ownership of the mill is transferred to Amber Real Estate, again owned by the Boparans. . The hiving-off of the mill-site to Amber Holdings means that Boparan can rent the site to, effectively, himself, and protect one business against the failure of another.
In June, a bank loan is raised against the weighbridge site.