West Sussex produce growers are set to benefit from new planning powers brought in under the government's Food Enterprise Zones programme.
Arun District Council received £50,000 from Defra in March to define "up to five" areas in which Local Development Orders for the region's horticultural businesses would apply - a task scheduled to take until June next year.
The orders will allow food and farming businesses to develop premises within size and location limits, without prior planning approval.
The council's assistant director for planning and regeneration Karl Roberts said: "Horticulture is a key employment sector in Arun district," adding that it was likely a separate order would be created for each area.
West Sussex Growers' Association marketing and publicity officer John Hall gave a cautious welcome to the move. He told Grower: "If such areas are approved, growers won't have to go through such stringent application process before building glasshouses, packhouses and the rest. They will still have to apply for planning permission but they will have fewer hoops to jump through. We have had some battles over this in the past, so it's welcome."
But he added: "In neighbouring Chichester, 'horticulture development areas' came in 20 years ago. Once you draw lines on a map, you can create an effective monopoly of preferential treatment for what are mostly large landowners, and instantly the value of that land for development shoots up. You end up paying a massive premium because they know you have to build there. You can only get round that by identifying large areas, or many smaller areas, so there's more of a market."
Planning - Which areas are covered?
The Arun District Council area extends along the West Sussex coast from Bognor Regis to Angmering, and is home to 35-40 per cent of the area's horticulture businesses, by John Hall's estimate. Land around Pagham, Barnham, Walberton and Westergate have been identified as candidate zones.
The move does not extend to neighbouring Chichester District Council, where nearly all the rest of the region's horticulture is situated.