R&L Holt laments planning challenges facing sector

Planning permission is still the main bottleneck to expanding glasshouse salad production, according to a grower who is currently investing £3m in a hi-tech replacement glasshouse in Worcestershire.

"Getting planning permission is a nightmare," R&L Holt co-owner Laura Holt told Grower. "Of course it depends where you live, but you'd think we'd be safe in the Vale of Evesham.

"It's upsetting - we are first-generation growers and thought this would be a good area for this sort of work. We have been given generous terms by the banks. Finance isn't the issue."

Recent expansion efforts by growers in other key glasshouse areas - the Lea Valley and Chichester Plain - have also been stymied by the planning process.

R&L Holt's 8,300sq m glasshouse will replace an existing structure and will also include a combined heat and power unit. "Payback on the investment will depend on how much we get back from the grid," said Holt.

The glasshouse will incorporate innovative LED interlighting combined with overhead high-pressure sodium lamps to enable year-round production.

"It's due to demand from the supermarkets for year-round supply, but if that's what they want they must be prepared to pay for it," said Holt. "It's an experiment and we will see how it pans out, but you have to keep moving or get left behind."

It will initially grow large on-the-vine tomatoes but "you could grow most types" using the format, she added. Production is scheduled to begin at the end of February.

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