Lea Valley Growers Association has made a vigorous defence of local protected horticulture to Epping Forest District Council, which is revising its local plan.
The association's ten-point proposal calls for the council's policy of restricting areas in which glasshouse development can be considered to be scrapped in favour of a "criteria-based" policy. It also urges expansion of renewable energy generation, including anaerobic digestion, and the possible selling off of unviable sites.
The proposal warns: "Unless these marketing companies and packhouses are encouraged and allowed to expand, supermarkets will place their orders elsewhere in the UK and abroad, which will effectively lead to the demise of the entire Lea Valley glasshouse industry."
Association chairman Gary Taylor said : "The main obstruction (to glasshouse development) is Lea Valley Regional Park Authority because its remit is to protect open space and it is obliged to go against anything that impinges on that."
Valley Grown, of which Taylor is managing director, had its own application to build an 87,000sq m glasshouse refused in June. The proposals for a site adjacent to the park were rejected on grounds of their perceived impact on visual amenity.
In spite of this, Taylor said: "I am pleasantly surprised that the council is talking to us. They recognise the importance of the glasshouse sector in the area and this is our opportunity to influence the plan. Our MPs are also supportive and I am optimistic that something positive can come out of it."
Regional industry Glasshouse area decline
Lea Valley is still one of the main UK glasshouse areas, along with Sussex, Evesham Vale and Humberside. But in the 1960s it was the largest in the world, with nearly 300ha of glass.
Now that figure stands at just 60ha - a fivefold reduction in half a century. The decline coincided with the creation of the regional park authority in 1966, which led to what the association's planning submission calls a "culture of obstruction and unwillingness to engage with growers".