Landowners welcome polytunnel advice

LANDOWNERS have welcomed Government advice that polytunnels won't necessarily need planning permission - despite a recent court ruling.

By Sarah Chambers

LANDOWNERS have welcomed Government advice that polytunnels won't necessarily need planning permission - despite a recent court ruling.

The Government's chief planning officer has moved to clarify the position on the sometimes controversial structures in the wake of a High Court judgment on the Tuesley Farm case in Surrey.

A planning inspector decided the polytunnels in question constituted a development for the purposes of the Town and Country Planning Act of 1990, and Mr Justice Sullivan at the High Court dismissed a challenge to his ruling.

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But Chief Planner Paul Hudson said that did not mean all future polytunnels will necessarily need planning permission.

“It is for the local planning authority to decide in each case which is the most appropriate course of action, taking account of local circumstances,” he said.

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He calls on planning authorities, when drawing up planning policy, to recognise the “important and varied role of agriculture and to support development proposals that promote sustainable, diverse and adaptable agricultural sectors”.

His new guidance, just issued, was welcomed by the Country Land and Business Association.

“We are very pleased that the Chief Planner has confirmed what we have been saying all along, which is there's polytunnels and there's polytunnels,” said the CLA's eastern region director Nicola Currie.

“They are not exactly a thing of beauty, but they are practical.”

She argued that the structures had “an important role to play” in producing food, and in allowing British producers to extend their growing season, thereby reducing the need for imports and food miles.

“You can raise the temperature just by covering and trapping the air. You don't have to heat them to be effective,” she pointed out.

“I think the other thing we also wanted to make clear is this is not about whether polytunnels are good or bad per se.”

In his guidance, Mr Hudson sets out how planners should view the structures, and says if a local planning authority is considering enforcement action, a key factor to take into account is the harm which has been, or may be, caused to local amenity.

Small Suffolk producers Jack Rosenthal and Robert White, both of whom have small-scale polytunnels to help bring along fruit and organic vegetable crops respectively, agreed the structures could be eyesores, but welcomed the guidance.

“I think that's the best outcome that could have occurred - that each case should be considered on its own merits,” said Mr Rosenthal, who owns Reckford Farmshop at Middleton, near Leiston.

He had them on a “minute scale”, he said, but said he had seen large-scale polytunnels which were “a blot on the landscape”. He said the plastics used to make them should all be recycled.

He had a couple of acres of blueberries which would grow better covered, but had not pursued the option because of the visual impact.

“I think growers are behoven to figure out where they can put these things with least impact,” he said. “I don't think growers should be given carte blanche to put them where they want.”

However, he pointed out that without them, we would not have had an English strawberry season this year with the adverse weather, and as a result of polytunnels many air miles had been saved.

Because of the polythene structures, we are able to produce strawberries from March to November, he pointed out.

Mr White of Peak Hill Farm, Theberton, near Leiston, said he had got one permanent and three temporary polytunnels at his small-scale organic operation.

“I would love to have more polytunnels except it would then be a blot on the landscape and I'm trying to sell myself as a traditional farmer,” he said.

It would be an “eyesore” and “very far from what I want to achieve”, he said.

However, he added: “In a year like this, without a polytunnel, we would have absolutely nothing to sell.”

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