NFU steps in as Herefordshire Council wins right to appeal over polytunnels decision

The NFU is intervening directly in a legal battle over the use of polytunnels on a farm in Herefordshire.

The farm business was granted planning permission by Herefordshire Council in 2008 for polytunnels covering 255ha of land, - of which 54ha would be covered at any one time. However, a local Wye Valley action group won a High Court challenge against the local authority's decision.

Deputy High Court judge Ian Dove QC ruled that Herefordshire Council had made an "error of law" by failing to require from the grower an environmental impact assessment (EIA) - a process required by law in certain circumstances prior to granting permission - and quashed the local authority's original decision.

However, Herefordshire Council has now been granted permission to appeal the judge's decision, with a hearing to be held in the Court of Appeal in November.

NFU chief legal adviser Nina Winter said: "We have been supportive of Herefordshire's stance and are pleased that it has been granted leave to appeal. An EIA wasn't originally required by the council but the High Court ruled that the site was 'semi-natural' so an EIA should have been required.

"We feel that the relevant EIA legislation was incorrectly interpreted by the High Court and we are particularly concerned with the High Court's finding that the site was 'semi natural' as a matter of law. This could impact on the industry more widely and that is why the NFU is keen to support the council's appeal of the High Court's decision.

"The NFU, with support from the Legal Assistance Scheme, has applied to the court to be an 'intervener' in this case and we will be making written submissions directly to the Court of Appeal.

"Polytunnels are important to the soft fruit industry because they allow farmers to provide locally-grown fresh fruit for longer, rather than consumers having to rely on foreign imports."

Growers across the country are continuing to face opposition from environmental groups and local residents for their use of polytunnels.

The structures were introduced to British horticulture in the early 1990s but a nationwide policy on using and putting up polytunnels is not yet in force. Rather, it is up to each local planning authority to determine whether a part- icular farm requires planning permission.

Kent-based fruit grower Robert Pascall, who is in the process of submitting a polytunnels planning application to his local authority, told Grower that more support is needed from the Government.

He said: "Planning has been a dominant issue amongst the Fruit & Vegetable Task Force (set up to find ways of increasing fresh produce production in the UK) and will be a fairly dominant issue in its report (due out later this year)."

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