Temporary accommodation for Corby warehouse workers has been dubbed ‘Victorian’ by a local councillor.
Three-storey modular units have been set up behind the Eddie Stobart-owned iForce building at the Midlands Logistics Park in Geddington Road. IForce’s London-based recruitment agency GIG says they’re an innovative way to ensure staff are able to come to work in Corby from all over the country.
However, local elected members have raised concerns over the standard of accommodation and its location in a storage area behind the warehouse next to a railway line. They’ve now dubbed it ‘tin can alley’.
Cllr Simon Rielly, who is on Corby’s area planning committee but has pledged not vote on this application should it go to committee, said: “There could be 50 people living in tin cans here.
"They’re away from any services and transport links.
“The company talks about flexibility of workers and how they can move staff but there’s nothing at all about the welfare of staff which we believe is important.
"This is going back to Victorian values and workhouses.
"iForce are suggesting it’s the first of many. We do not want Corby to be an experiment in going back in time.”
The iForce warehouse was originally marketed as providing jobs for ‘350 local people’. But as the steady stream of European workers moving to Corby dried to a post-Brexit trickle, many businesses across the town began struggling to find staff.
At iForce, ‘flexible recruitment’ firm GIG stepped in and began bussing workers in weekly from London and other areas, putting them up in the Holiday Inn hotel just across the road from the warehouse.
However, they have now decided to provide their own accommodation on the disused plot of land and have applied to North Northamptonshire Council for a change of use for the site.
The units have been in place for some months but iForce says they are not yet in use. Planners asked the firm to submit a planning application following a site visit.
The application has been submitted by iForce owners Eddie Stobart and GIG Hotels Limited. They want permission for the temporary three-storey accommodation block with 48 units housing up to 52 people for the next three years.
There are tight laws around employers who provide accommodation for their workers, imposed by the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority. The accommodation must be deemed to be in a good state of repair, with adequate kitchens and bathrooms, and have all relevant licenses.
It is not yet known if the site will need an House in Multiple Occupation licence.
The planning application states: “Eddie Stobart have identified a need to provide accommodation for their staff in order to better manage staffing levels during peak activity when warehouse staffing requirements can increase by over 300 per cent.
“By developing purpose-built staff accommodation, this occupier would be able to, during peak times, bring in staff from wider afield complementing the local labour pool and supporting the gaps that the local labour market is unable to fill during peak period spikes.”
They say the internal space includes sleeping accommodation, bathrooms and kitchen space ‘within a high quality environment.’ Many of the workers will share kitchens and bathrooms. The application says there would be astroturf and bench seating outside, a 2.4m security fence around the block, and a pathway constructed to link to the factory.
The site is owned by Mulberry Property Developments on what is dubbed ‘one of the biggest logistics opportunities in the UK’. When Eddie Stobart opened their warehouse in 2019 they promised in their marketing there would be ‘350 jobs for local Corby people’.
GIG owner Antony Woodcock said that warehouses like iForce in Corby have seen an adverse impact of the pandemic and Brexit on their ability to keep things operating smoothly, with two thirds of firms unable to recruit and retain staff in sufficient numbers to cope with recent disruption.
He said: “We have been aware of a ripple effect in the UK labour market, especially where there are a number of logistics companies all who have high volume staffing needs.
“The iForce warehouse in Corby, one of GIG’s current partners, provides orders for some of the biggest retailers in the country, and 80 workers are currently provided daily by GIG Hub.
"GIG Hub brings workers from areas of high unemployment to locations like Northamptonshire, guaranteeing a minimum supply level for clients with a closed audience workforce.
"GIG looks after all the travel and accommodation for their workers and has been creating purpose-built accommodation at partner sites like iForce to house the workers it provides them. This helps to avoid some of the additional costs such as transport and hotel accommodation, allowing for even fewer costs to be passed on.
“Purpose-built accommodation allows us to keep a consistent delivery for our clients, so we can guarantee a certain number of heads, and keep that cost steady through the year. It also means we can tailor the accommodation to better suit the needs of our workers.”
No objections to the planning application have so far been raised by NNC’s housing or highways departments. Northants Police have not objected but have raised some security concerns. .
You can view the application and comment on it here.