West Sussex Growers Association research says large-scale developments face uphill struggle to gain approval

Approval for a central large-scale horticultural development is becoming harder to get despite supportive planners, according to a study highlighting the economic contribution of the glasshouse industry in West Sussex.

Viability of the Horticultural Glasshouse Industry in West Sussex: Prospects for the Future and Likely Scale of Development Over the Next 10 to 15 Years, commissioned by the West Sussex Growers Association (WSGA), reveals a dynamic industry making a much bigger contribution to the local economy than previously thought. It highlights the industry's value to the area in the hope that growers might have an input into the local planning framework.

The report, compiled by Reading Agricultural Consultants, Hennock Industries and Gerry Hayman Horticultural Consultancy, was funded by the South East England Development Agency, West Sussex County Council and Chichester and Arun District Councils. The researchers surveyed growers in Chichester and Arun - exposing a tendency for small developments to be accepted but larger ones to be denied.

Despite 85 per cent and 93 per cent planning approval rates for new glass in Chichester and Arun respectively, only 55ha of 101ha applied for have been accepted.

WSGA chairman Paul Sopp said: "Getting appropriate permission for large-scale developments is significantly more difficult. There is this nimby attitude towards large blocks of glass and I think that both the local authorities and the community need to understand what the industry brings to the area both in terms of economic benefits and for food security and food miles."

The report also highlighted the true value of the industry - which, according to Sopp and Hayman, is roughly double what had been previously thought.

The WSGA is now looking to work with other organisations in the area to prepare a strategy document that could help influence the local planning framework.

There has been similar research on Epping Forest. NFU Board for Horticulture & Potatoes chairman Sarah Pettitt is compiling research in Lincolnshire, but there are no data available to compare with the rest of the country.

However, examples such as tomato grower R&L Holt in the Vale of Evesham reveal how problematic planning can be outside West Sussex. The company is just emerging from a three-year planning process costing it at least £150,000.

It wanted to build 8ha of glass in a field flanked by a railway and a road and not adjacent to houses. Economic and environmental officers from the council were in favour of the project but it was rejected after objections from residents. A 4.9ha application was also rejected but eventually won on appeal.

R&L Holt partner Laura Holt said: "The entire process has been a nightmare and terrible for the business. The attitudes of some people were really unbelievable. This is supposed to be a horticultural area."

Former WSGA chairman Patrick Bastow had an 18-month planning battle to erect 30 polytunnels (about 1.2ha) when running Yoder Toddington. He finally abandoned the fight when planners asked the company to pay for £90,000 of road improvements as a condition to the development.

Bastow blamed mobilised, affluent communities of former urbanites. He said his experience at Lincolnshire-based Swedeponic, which he now runs, could not be more different. "It is like chalk and cheese. We got planning permission for 12 acres (4.9ha) of glass in about 12 weeks up here."

Sopp added: "If you get a pressure group in one area it can quite easily sway a local authority. From our point of view, we would say its objections should be considered, but there should be a presumption that glass can create benefit for the local community."

See leader.


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