A MULTI-MILLION investment in cannabis oil production at a site in Eskdale could create dozens of jobs.
An application to build a 1.5-hectare glasshouse at the Craig by Neil Ewart is currently being processed.
As part of the application, Mr Ewart held a public drop-in at the Buccleuch Centre in Langholm on Monday.
The meeting heard from a number of partners involved in the project which, they said, would be very low impact but provide quality, skilled jobs.
Attending were William Ewart, Mr Ewart’s son, Noel O’Leary of Cambridge Hok, East Yorkshire, which builds glasshouses, Mark Seed of Forest and Land Management, Langholm, Mike Harlington, chairman of the Cannabis Trade Association, and Hamish Clegg of Hannan & Partners, London, a leading independent investment bank.
William explained they would grow medicinal cannabis, a product which the pharmaceutical companies had been researching for epilepsy, pain relief, cancer and multiple sclerosis.
He said: “The oil will be extracted from the plant and bottled before being sold to pharmaceutical companies which will turn it into a medicine.
“Our area has been dwindling in its employment for the past 30 years but we hope to bring substantial new employment.
“We’ll employ about 50 skilled and unskilled people and there is money from the government to train people for those skilled jobs.
“We can headhunt local people and train them for specific jobs, including scientists, IT specialists, horticulturalists and security.”
He said the team they had assembled to get them through the planning application would help to create a sustainable business.
Mr Seed a survey had been done to make sure the site did not disturb water flows. Some filtrations tests had still to be done.
He said: “It’s fairly benign; there isn’t a terrestrial water issue. There are a few issues to be finished, mainly ecological and hydrological and an archaeological site was discovered. That site has been dealt with and we’ll work around it.
“We’ll submit reports this week but more information will probably be needed on access to the public highway and the projected number of cars.”
The site will have a car park but there is a possibility that a bus could be provided for the workers, particularly if a large number of them came from Langholm.
Mr O’Leary said construction would take nine months but only a handful of articulated lorries would need to access the site early on and two more to bring in the glass. The rest would be vans.
The site would use a combined heat and power unit, fed by LPG, so it would provide all its own power.
He said: “The great thing is that all the CO2 will be used; it will be fed into the glasshouse as a by-product.”
He assured the meeting that the glasshouse would withstand severe weather. It was a tested technology and there was a similar one on Shetland.
Rainwater would be captured on the roof and stored in two tanks. It would be filtered before being used on the plants.
There would be a two-month supply so it was very unlikely to run out.
Mr Harlington said the site would be very secure, according to Home Office regulations. It was the Home Office which would grant the licence.
Mr Clegg pointed out that the business would have a low environmental impact but produce a high-quality product. There would not be HGVs going in and out; just one van once a week.
He said: “It will produce 200 litres of oil a year. We’ll make the concentrated raw material and it will be diluted by the pharmaceutical companies to be used by doctors.
“You don’t use pesticides or any chemicals on the plants so it’s very labour intensive. The plants are checked by hand for everything.”
Neil Ewart said: It’s a fairly hefty investment and fairly high risk so we’re lucky to have Hamish to guide us.
“You wouldn’t take it on as an ordinary farm so we’ve put together a team to take on a high-risk move.”
Councillor Ronnie Tait added: “It’s the most exciting news we’ve had in Langholm for a long time.”