A PRINTING plant that produces some of the UK’s top magazines is to close with the loss of 179 jobs.

Staff at Southernprint – which handles the women’s weekly Grazia and a host of BBC titles – were told that parent company Walstead planned to shut its Poole site.

A consultation process will end just before Christmas.

The Upton printworks handles titles such as the BBC’s Good Food, Easy Cook, Top Gear, Octonauts and Doctor Who Magazine, as well as a Spider-Man title, Landrover Magazine and Waitrose Food Illustrated. It previously produced men’s magazine Zoo, which sold hundreds of thousands of copies in its heyday.

In a letter to staff, Walstead Southernprint managing director Paul Toms said at least 44 magazines had disappeared from the market in the past year.

“It has been a rollercoaster for Southernprint in terms of trading, but there is one common factor now that continues apace in the wider market, and that is the unwavering demise of UK publishing titles,” he said.

Many more required short print runs suitable for sheet-fed production, which use individual sheets of paper, rather than Southernprint’s web offset printing, which use rolls of paper.

“There are many other problems in the market. Utility prices continue to rise, waste paper sales have fallen through the floor and new paper prices have spiralled and in most cases we cannot pass on the costs to customers,” he said.

“Lease costs show no sign of reflecting a downturn in the economy with the landlords of this site expecting a 30 per cent increase which they believe would be due even if pushed to arbitration. In the meantime we have to accept that our customers are struggling and further accept that prices for our services will continue to fall.”

He said 2019 had been “worse than previous years with the peaks less frequent and the troughs continuous”.

“The reality is that we have as a group too much capacity and when we look at the forecasts for 2020, the situation is worse,” he added.

Walstead bought Southernprint from Newsquest Media Group in 2009. The Factory Road site is Walstead’s smallest print centre and its work is expected to be absorbed by its plants at Roche, Bicester and Peterborough.

Mr Toms said in his letter: “It is not all about natural demise in magazine printing. Paper costs have played a part and so has Brexit as it has not allowed some of our customers to forge ahead with products that otherwise would have been published but whatever the reasons, as a group, we can see quite clearly that there is only enough work in the 2020 marketplace to fill three sites, and therefore a fourth site cannot be an option.”

A 45-day consultation began on Wednesday and Mr Toms said no redundancies would take place before December 21.

The consultation will involve union reps for the printworkers. Sales and administration staff who do not have a recognised union are being asked to elect representatives.

The trade website Print Week quoted Walstead said magazine printing volumes at the company effectively halved between 2011 and 2018.

It quoted chief executive Paul Utting as saying: “It has only been after much consideration that the decision to consult with the workforce at Walstead Southernprint has been taken and we very much regret the potential loss of jobs if no alternatives are found.

“However, the UK’s web offset printing sector continues to face significant structural issues and ongoing reduction in capacity is inevitable. We are determined to restructure our business to ensure that we remain competitive and can continue to provide a sustainable business to our clients during the cycle.”