NFU president Meurig Raymond was among guests at Valley Grown Nurseries of Nazeing, Essex, as it unveiled the first phase of its 10ha expansion programme. "There is tremendous scope to grow more salad crops to meet public demand, but modern agriculture and horticulture require investment in modern buildings and facilities," he said.
"That's why this new development is so welcome. I'm delighted that the NFU supported Valley Grown Nurseries through the planning process and I hope we will see more schemes like this in the future."
The new facility will be used for growing tomatoes and sweet peppers, chiefly for Waitrose, with planting having already begun in January. This adds to the 80 million cucumbers, 70 million sweet peppers and other salad crops already grown in the Lea Valley's 120ha of glasshouses - a figure that has declined by 80 per cent since the area's peak in the 1950s.
Valley Grown Nurseries obtained planning permission for the new glasshouse in 2014 but the decision was challenged by the park authority, which unsuccessfully took its case first to the High Court and then the Court of Appeal. The NFU provided support through its Legal Assistance Scheme during this lengthy process.
The appeal was based chiefly on whether the glasshouse met criteria for development within the Green Belt. NFU secretary of Lea Valley Growers Association Lee Stiles told Horticulture Week: "This landmark case makes the law clear - agricultural buildings are, in principle, appropriate development in the green belt under national planning policy, regardless of the effect on the 'openness' of the green belt."
Valley Grown Nurseries owner Jimmy Russo said: "After several years of uncertainty, and huge financial costs, we are delighted that Epping Forest District Council has granted planning permission for this scheme."
He added: "We would also like to thank the NFU and Lea Valley Growers Association for their financial support and dedication during this uncertainty. It's great news that the challenge has been dismissed and we can now get on with growing fantastic food."
Local MP Robert Halfon was also among around 150 guests at the opening.