Sweetest deal’s done on ex-TAFE

SOUTHERN Downs ratepayers stand to recoup around $1.6 million following the sale of the council-owned former Applethorpe TAFE.

In a similar scenario to the former Warwick Shire's purchase of Slade Campus for $3.54 million in 2007, the ex-Stanthorpe Shire Council bought the defunct Applethorpe TAFE from the State Government for $1.2 million in December of the same year.

But it's taken almost as long to find a new user for the TAFE - but the good news for ratepayers is that Caboolture-based Red Hill Berries will pay $810,000 for the site and has also secured a 30- year lease over an adjoining parcel that in total will eventually net the region around $1.6 million.

The company also estimates that when at full capacity it will generate an annual turnover of $2.5 million.

Council CEO Andrew Roach said yesterday the deal had come about due to "the diligence of council staff ensuring the former TAFE campus was viewed as a highly valuable property".

"This was to encourage a number of tenderers into the process," Mr Roach told the Daily News.

But councillors themselves were not unanimous on the deal, with Deputy Mayor Ross Bartley and Cr Vic Pennisi opposing it when it came to the final vote at a special meeting on Monday.

Mr Roach said in recent times, several businesses had approached council about the site and it was agreed a tender process was the best option for the sale.

"This is a true testament to our team to secure such a return on an asset that has been sitting idle for a number of years," the CEO said.

"Red Hill Berries is a new business to our region and will bring a great economic boost at a time when other regions are struggling.

"Red Hill Berries have advised council they have had preliminary discussions with leading berry supplier Driscoll's about establishing a distribution facility for Stanthorpe growers on the former TAFE site.

"Driscoll's work in partnership with berry growers looking at research and development, propagating and licensing plants and also the marketing and sale of berry fruits."

He said Driscoll's have operations in Australia, America, Mexico, Europe and the United Kingdom.

"Red Hill Berries has advised council that once they are established they would employ 50 full-time employees for eight to 10 months of the year, 180 seasonal workers plus a permanent farm manager and shed manager," he said.

"There will be flow-on benefits as well with Red Hill Berries purchasing fertilisers, packaging, irrigation and other supplies from local business when full-time production starts.

"Red Hill Berries estimate this will generate $1.5 million to the local economy," Mr Roach said.

"This is a real win for our region and not only brings economic benefit but more international business links to the Southern Downs."

Sweet deal

Red Hill Berries will buy the primary Applethorpe TAFE site for $810,000

In addition, the company will lease an adjoining land parcel from council for $35,000 a year for an initial period of 10 years

It commenced farming in 2003, with a small crop of strawberries. Since then, the operation has vastly expanded and extends over five properties, with more than 52 hectares in total

Red Hill Berries has become the largest raspberry grower in Queensland with almost 10 hectares grown under cover

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