THWAITES will axe up to 60 jobs after the firm announced plans to close the majority of its Blackburn brewery.
Bosses at the firm said negotiations with the council and supermarket chain Sainsbury’s to build on the site had failed.
But yesterday, they told staff they were pressing ahead with plans to reinvest in a new brewery but refused to say where that would be located.
The Lancashire Telegraph understands the redundancies would leave around 13 brewing staff in Blackburn.
The move means large-scale brewing at the town centre site will cease, but Thwaites intends to keep the visitor centre and craft brewery, Crafty Dan, on the current site.
Blackburn with Darwen Council chiefs said they were disappointed by the announcement, and said they would continue to work hard to find a site within the borough for the relocated brewery.
Staff said the announcement had come as a ‘bolt out of the blue’.
Thwaites’ chief executive Rick Bailey said: “We have not been able to make the progress that we had hoped with Sainsbury’s and Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council, although we continue to pursue all options.
“Our current brewery is old, oversized for our current needs and reaching a point of obsolescence.
“It is inefficient for the demands of today’s market and is reaching the end of its economic life.
“This proposed restructuring and the closure of parts of our old brewery will see the company continue to brew at our Blackburn site in our modern craft brewery.
“During this transitional phase we will be at full capacity, and to the extent that we have capacity constraints, we will be helped by some of our beers being brewed by external partners.
“Unfortunately, we are not currently in a position to make public where the new brewery will be located, but hope to be able to do so shortly.”
Brewery bosses confirmed that some brewing will be outsourced to rival Marston’s, but insisted that was just a temporary measure.
They refused to give details of what would happen to the existing building once it is shut down.
Staff at the historic Star Brewery in Penny Street were told of the plans yesterday in a meeting attended by company chairwoman Ann Yerburgh.
One brewery worker said: “You could cut the atmosphere in there with a knife.
“We have been told it will close down in March and there will only be 13 people left in the brewing side.
“They have decimated us in recent years. There were two culls a couple of years ago and another last year.”
Another said: “The announcement came as a real bolt out of the blue. We were working overtime in the run-up to Christmas.”
Thwaites Brewery was established by Daniel Thwaites in 1807, although it was initially called the Eanam Brewery.
The firm has remained within the Yerburgh family ever since, and chairwoman Ann Yerburgh is a distant grandaughter of the company’s founder Daniel.
The company owns more than 350 pubs nationwide and has 350 employees in Blackburn, both at its Penny Street site and a distribution centre in Shadsworth, and 1,450 employees nationwide.
Thwaites is understood to have looked at potential alternative brewing sites in the motorway triangle around Chorley, Ribble Valley and South Ribble in 2012/13.
Former Ribble Valley council leader Mike Ranson confirmed he held preliminary talks with Thwaites about possible sites in the borough more than 12 months ago.
Blackburn with Darwen Council is now in final detailed negotiations with ‘a number of retailers’ to secure a smaller supermarket development, believed not to include Sainsbury’s, on the old market site.
Sources said that the council’s offers of alternative brewery sites in the borough had not been followed up by Thwaites.
Blackburn with Darwen Council executive member for regeneration Maureen Bateson said: “It is disappointing to hear about the potential job losses at the company.
“We are in very tough times and I also recognise the difficulties specific to the brewing industry.
“We will continue to work with Thwaites on relocating the brewery to a site in the borough as the company is very important to Blackburn with Darwen.
“We have given them a list of potential relocation sites and are committed to a vibrant town centre with a good range of jobs and services for people.”
A spokesman for Sainsbury’s said: “We have been working with the council and Thwaites for some time now and we are naturally disappointed that it has proved impossible to develop the site.
“However, Sainsbury’s remains committed to the area and to Blackburn, where we will continue to look for suitable sites for a main foodstore.”
Blackburn MP Jack Straw said: “I will do anything I can to try to keep Thwaites brewing in Blackburn.
“I hope we can achieve this as it has been a tradition in the town for 200 years.”
Coun Ranson said: “We had an informal discussion with Thwaites about possible brewing sites in the Ribble Valley more than a year ago but nothing ever happened.”
His successor Stuart Hirst said: “If Thwaites wanted to come to the Ribble Valley we would be delighted and would do all we could to assist them.”