Growers press for judicial review on council polytunnel decision

The NFU and soft fruit growers are applying for a Judicial Review of Herefordshire County Council’s stance on polytunnels.

At the end of March the council announced that large scale polytunnels would require planning permission for future developments and retrospectively.

The decision followed a High Court ruling in December that large scale polytunnels and a caravan site for workers near Godalming, Surrey, required planning permission, threatening the future of the UK’s £200m soft fruit industry.

The NFU claims that Herefordshire County Council has misinterpreted the judgement, and is now putting together an application for Judicial Review in conjunction with fruit growers and the National Summer Fruits Association.

Anthony Snell, chairman of the NFU’s West Midlands horticulture board said that he had invested hundreds of thousands of pounds in polytunnels at his farm, near Ross-on-Wye, and said the decision threatened the future of British fruit production.

“Out of the blue we are now being told that we need planning permission.

“We’ve done everything legally and correctly – following the code of practise – and now, if I lose my planning application I will lose my business.”

Applications must be accompanied by a raft of impact assessments, costing growers thousands of pounds, but the criteria were so vague that growers had no idea whether they were likely to be approved or not, said Mr Snell.

“All the other councils are watching this very carefully which we are very concerned about.”

Peter Yates, Herefordshire council development control manager, said decisions would be based on the size, scale, permanence and degree of attachment of polytunnels to the ground. However, there were no defined guidelines so all decisions were subject to a high degree of interpretation, he added.