THE Dairy Crest plant in Fenstanton is to close in November with 250 jobs at risk.

The company told the Stock Exchange yesterday (Tuesday) that it planned to start consultations with a total of 400 employees on the complete closure of two sites - Fenstanton and Aintree in Liverpool - later this year.

The two plants missed out on a recent £75million investment programme, and the company now proposes to transfer Fenstanton's 'polybottle' activities to other plants in Gloucestershire, London and Derbyshire.

The closures will cost the company a one-off £15m, it announced.

It stressed that a further announcement of the loss of its liquid milk contract with supermarket giant Tesco, which accounts for three per cent of its milk sales, was not related to the closure proposals.

Dairy Crest chief executive Mark Allen said: "The decision to consult on the closure of our Aintree and Fenstanton facilities has not been taken lightly, but we believe that this proposed restructuring of our dairies business is the right decision for the long term. We will do all we can to help employees who may be affected by these proposals."

About half the Fenstanton employees are members of Unite, whose national officer, Cath Speight, said: "This is devastating news. We have now entered into the 90-day consultation, and Unite will be doing everything possible to save these jobs, protect our members' interests and maximise the opportunity for redeployment.

"These closures will be a massive blow for the workers and the local areas affected. As more and more people are made redundant, job opportunities are becoming even scarcer. We now owe it to our members and their families to do everything in our power to help and support them.

"We hope Dairy Crest's management will rethink this decision and we urge them to offer the staff affected every opportunity for redeployment within the business."

A company spokesman said there were around 40 redeployment opportunities in the dairy division, but all would be likely to involve Fenstanton employees' moving home.

Nearly all the 250 staff live within a 30-mile radius of the plant - in Huntingdonshire or the Cambridge and Peterborough areas.

With milk being produced mainly in the west of England, Fenstanton had not received the recent investment that had gone into other plants. "The other sites are closer to where the milk is produced," a Diary Crest spokesman said.

He promised that everything would be done to help employees find other work if the decision to close were confirmed, including providing help with re-training and the search for new jobs.

The situation was being explained to employees at a meeting as The Hunts Post went to press last night.

There has been a dairy on the site since 1926. It was acquired by Dairy Crest in 1989.

Huntingdon MP Jonathan Djanogly said he would be contacting Dairy Crest to discuss the implications of the "very unwelcome news" for his constituents.

And Councillor Jason Ablewhite, executive leader of Huntingdonshire District Council was shocked by the decision to close a major employment site.

"One of the things we are doing continually is to push local enterprise and jobs where we can, such as the enterprise zone at Alconbury, where jobs created will mitigate some of the potential loss at Fenstanton.

"But there are timescale implications, so there will be some serious issue for a lot of people in St Ives and Fenstanton."

Cllr Ablewhite conceded that most dairies were in areas where there was a lot of dairy farming, whereas Huntingdonshire was primarily arable with very few dairy cattle.

"I can see why they are having to rationalise, with the price of diesel."

Dairy Crest said diesel had been one of the company's costs that had gone up "but it would not be right to attribute this to the cost of diesel".

District councillor Greg Harlock, a former council chief executive who has lived in the village for more than 30 years, said: "The loss of Dairy Crest from Fenstanton would be a major blow, as they have, over the years, been very supportive of community projects. If closure is confirmed, it will be a very sad end to what has been a long established business in the village."

The loss of Dairy Crest from the community is likely to be a significant blow to what has become a biennial event - the music festival Fringe in the Fen, which last year raised more than £20,000 for Macmillan Cancer Support. The company was a major sponsor of the first festival last year, but Fringe organiser Nigel Ferrier said he had not been relying on the company's backing for 2013.

"I'm more concerned about their leaving the village and a derelict site," he said.