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End of an era

PUBLISHED: 10:26 08 May 2008 | UPDATED: 09:44 23 August 2010

WAY OF LIFE: The end of the cement industry at Northfleet is the end of a chapter for store manager John Cribb and members of his family.

WAY OF LIFE: The end of the cement industry at Northfleet is the end of a chapter for store manager John Cribb and members of his family.

A FATHER-OF-TWO who has worked in the cement industry for over four decades has spoken of the emotional experience as a historic site is decommissioned. Two 198-metre kilns closed at Lafarge Cement UK s Northfleet Works this week, as the site that has

A FATHER-OF-TWO who has worked in the cement industry for over four decades has spoken of the 'emotional' experience as a historic site is decommissioned.

Two 198-metre kilns closed at Lafarge Cement UK's Northfleet Works this week, as the site that has existed for more than 200 years prepares to close.

It signalled the start of the 'phase down' process which will see the two chimneys that have dominated north Kent's skyline being demolished by the end of 2010.

Store manager John Cribb, 59, of Stanham Road, Dartford, has witnessed the decline of industry in north Kent over several years.

He said: "When the kilns were shutdown it was an emotional experience. We are in the process of winding down and for many that is a sad experience. It was a solemn, sad occasion and signalled the end of an era when we watched the last feed go in to the kiln. It was then everyone looked at each other and thought 'oh dear, this is it.'

"This is very much a family industry, my son Ian works here, my father worked in the industry and so did my brother and nephew. That is the case with a lot of workers here and in the industry in general. It has been a part of so many people's lives.

"At the height of production in the early '70s the works employed about 1,800 people either through the company or contractors. It was a massive part of life in north Kent, a way of life.

"I am not taking redundancy until the end of July and I am happy with my time here but I think it is then when it will sink in.

"Some are staying on as decommissioning will take about two years and of course the chimneys that have been part of the skyline for decades and decades will come down.

"Growing up in Gravesend I have seen industries close and it is so sad, a terrible shame.

"There are some younger people here who obviously have to think of their future but the experience they have gained here cannot be matched anywhere else.

"At the end of the day we have quarried all the chalk here and it is now ceasing. It will be extremely sad when I leave for the last time, knowing I won't be coming back."

The gradual closure is due to the exhaustion of chalk, one of the main raw materials used to make cement. As a result it has now stopped the manufacture of clinker, which is ground with small amounts of other minerals to make cement.

During its time the site has supplied most of the south east with cement, with projects like the Dartford Bridge, Canary Wharf and Channel Tunnel project relying heavily on supplies from Northfleet.

Originally called the Bevans site, it was taken over by Blue Circle, later to become Lefarge Cement. Mr Cribb joined the company in April 1964, working at the Swanscombe Works, before transferring to Northfleet in 1969.

UK managing director, Erdogan Pekenc said: "We remain fully-focused on doing the very best for our customers, employees and the local community during this period, as well as maintaining the proud heritage of Northfleet as we begin to phase down production at the site."

Of the 72 people leaving the company at the end of this month over 60 per cent are taking early retirement.

A team of 49 will initially remain over the coming months to continue cement production and start decommissioning parts of the site. Plans will be incorporated in to the Kent Thameside Regeneration Scheme to be submitted later this year. They include a mix of heavy and light industrial uses, open green spaces.

michael.adkins@archant.co.uk

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