A bid to expand the workforce at Britain's largest fruit farm near Canterbury, Kent, is being resisted by locals who claim traffic, litter and noise will all increase writes Joe Wright.

Neighbouring villagers also claim fruit pickers defecate in the nearby fields and bushes in the region designated an Area of Natural Outstanding Beauty.

Bosses at the farm want to increase the workforce but residents fear the idea could reduce their quality of life further.

FW Mansfield & Son, which has a fruit business of 1.7 million trees across 1,480 acres of Kent countryside, wants permission for 20 extra caravans to be pitched up at its HQ.

But concerned villagers have blasted the proposals - fearing big rises in traffic, litter, noise and more human faeces being found near public footpaths.

The plans come after the multi-million pound firm snapped up a further 275 acres of farmland in a village three miles away - with the creation of 80 new jobs.

The firm wants to house some of the new employees in six-berth caravans at Middle Pett Farm should the plans be approved by the council.

Helen Stephens who lives nearby claimed the "peace and tranquillity" in the area has already been eroded due to the amount of existing seasonal workers, and added that an extra 80 will escalate the current problems.

Commenting on the plans, she said: "As an Area of Natural Outstanding Beauty these vans are a massive intrusion in the countryside, least of all the litter left by the residents on a daily basis and the defecating near footpaths and on verges.

"They have little respect for the permanent residents in the area.

"The addition of a further 20 mobile homes would mean a possible 270 people on a site which doesn't have the appropriate amenities to cope with the existing number without adding to it.

"The number of people accessing the lane from the units through the hedging would be extremely dangerous to traffic.

"Our once beautiful countryside becomes more of an eyesore. If we had wanted to live around 250 or so neighbours we would have bought a house in the middle of town."

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Despite the criticism, the proposals have been warmly welcomed by others who live in the area.

One supporter, Peter Kelly, said: "In the current climate it is fantastic that they are in a position to expand and even better that it can incorporate new jobs, of which the UK is crying out for.

"The pandemic has taken so many businesses from us and Mansfields are opening up more and more job opportunities."

While Mansfields has historically relied on Eastern European labourers, it expects the new roles to be taken by locals left unemployed by the fallout of the pandemic.

New restrictions on freedom of movement from the EU are also expected to prevent foreign workers from arriving and taking up the seasonal jobs.

The caravan proposals have been officially submitted to Canterbury City Council by managing director Paul Mansfield and are awaiting approval by planning bosses.

Documents compiled by planning agents Finn's state: "While FW Mansfield & Son actively try to recruit to employ local labour, the local populace has been unwilling in the past to take the jobs on offer.

"This is experienced throughout the agricultural economy but given the outbreak of Covid-19 and the subsequent job losses, particularly in the hospitality sector, it is possible that more of the farm workforce will be recruited in the UK.

"In the 2020 season, more than 100 local people have joined the farm workforce, some of whom have taken accommodation from the farm."

Across Kent, the business currently employs 300 full-time staff - a total which increases to more than 1,100 when temporary employees are on the roster during summer months.

The firm has been contacted for comment.