Planning reform in key growing area 'a step in the right direction' but growers hope for more

Impact limited to small-scale developments such as more efficient glass.

Glasshouses: council says horticultural local development order allows replacements, upgrades and extensions - image: Ingram
Glasshouses: council says horticultural local development order allows replacements, upgrades and extensions - image: Ingram

Arun district councillors have approved a horticultural local development order (LDO) for parts of the key growing region of West Sussex, meaning it will be easier to gain permission for potential glasshouse developments. But one grower has suggested that the LDO may be more complex than standard planning applications.

West Sussex Growers' Association (WSGA) called the move a step in the right direction, although its impact will be limited to small-scale developments. WSGA agreed horticultural development areas (HDAs) with Chichester District Council 15 years ago, where permission is a formality within reason for horticultural enterprises.

The WSGA Plan to Grow conference in November 2015 saw the group ask Arun to consider a similar scheme for its area. The LDO simplifies and speeds up the planning process for horticulture businesses by permitting additional rights to undertake certain categories of development without the need for planning permission.

Arun said this reduces costs and increases certainty. The LDO allows replacements, upgrades and extensions of existing glasshouses as well as polytunnels, packhouses and distribution buildings and the construction of reservoirs, access routes and other "essential" buildings. But it does not identify new land for LDOs or make planning permission outside the identified LDOs any easier than at present.

The agreed LDO takes into account feedback from an eight-week public consultation into whether it should be adopted. The consultation received 102 responses, including from Barfoots, Cobbins Nursery, WSGA's John Hall and Martin Emmett at Binsted and Walberton Nurseries.

The order applies to 10 areas of land that are currently used for horticulture in locations across the Arun district and it will be approved for 10 years. The next step comes with another Plan to Grow conference, with Arun District Council in 2017.

WSGA planning consultant John Hall said: "WSGA is happy with Arun's LDO and has had many consultations with them, although it's all a bit underwhelming."

On gaining wider permissions on new land, WSGA chairman Graham Bryant said: "Discussion is the only way to do it. There's an opportunity to do that at Plan to Grow 2017. It's a long-term objective. If there could be a bit of an increase, that would be good. We need the ability to grow. This gives them the opportunity but whether it will fulfil all current needs I don't know. There is an appetite from quite a few people to increase capacity, from ornamentals and salads, certainly in terms of food security, and to make sure we increase the amount of production we have. I think there's always a possibility. I'm an optimist."

Bryant said bringing council members on site and showing them what land would be suitable for expansion is the way forward. "I'm not disappointed. We see this as a start." He added that growers would use the LDO to make it easier to erect more efficient glass and for possible mechanisation projects.

Binsted Nurseries' Martin Emmett said Binsted's site falls outside the LDO because of heavy vehicle traffic issues but emphasised that Arun has been "helpful and generally progressive" working with local industries. But he warned that the new system might "potentially be more complex than standard planning applications".

Arun District Council planning and economic regeneration director Karl Roberts said the new system would make it easier for small-scale developments. "We're trying, within reasonable limits, to roll back bureaucracy of the state to allow horticulture businesses to do a certain amount of development where they would otherwise have to apply to the council. They are things that will hopefully not usually cause an issue. Using an LDO will provide a greater degree of certainty for making business decisions."

On new glass outside existing areas, he said the council's approach is to make decisions on applications' individual merits. Barfoots, Langmeads and Eric Hall, on a former glasshouse site later given permission for housing, have all won permissions for new glass in recent times. Barfoots at Pagham has an ongoing application for the construction of a fresh-foods packaging building with ancillary accommodation and access.

"The council is happy to be flexible and look at each case on its merits," said Roberts. "We're different to Chichester, which has an HDA." That means those without access to that area meet difficulties, "whereas we will consider individual proposals on their own merits". He said the two approaches complement each other along the West Sussex coastal plain. The LDO includes "safeguards" within which businesses have to work, "but I think that's reasonably straightforward", he added. "Hopefully most business will understand this is for their benefit. But if we don't get much take up we will need to review."

In response to environmental and planning submissions and objections, the council said: "The LDO is intended to facilitate small and uncontroversial horticultural developments in areas where associated activities are already well-established. The LDO does not replace any existing planning policy or permissions. It allows suitable developments to proceed in designated areas, subject to a prior notification procedure. The LDO is not part of any strategy for horticulture but has regard for all sites where established horticultural use is associated with buildings or permanent structures."

Cobbins Nurseries director George Lisher wrote in support, saying the nursery has spent £2m on development and plans another £2m spend over the next three years.

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