Glasshouse victory is unlikely to 'open the floodgates', says director at Valley Grown

Managing director says 'it has been a real battle' after securing permission for new 8.5ha tomato and pepper glasshouse.

Glasshouse: scheme approved
Glasshouse: scheme approved

Essex protected salad grower Valley Grown has succeeded in gaining planning permission for an 8.5ha tomato and pepper glasshouse at the third attempt.

Managing director Gary Taylor said the move is unlikely to "open the floodgates" to many more developments, as critics have argued, as there are so few growers with the necessary capital.

"It has been a real battle," Taylor told Grower. "A lot of the work has been done behind the scenes with the local councils."

The Lea Valley Food Task Force - made up of representatives from local growers and packhouses, the NFU, which also provided legal support, six councils and the Lea Valley Regional Park Authority - "has made the difference", he said.

Explaining how Epping District Council came to pass the unchanged application, Taylor said: "The planning committee has taken many things into consideration. In the absence of a local plan, there was only the national plan to compare with, which worked in our favour. It was an eight-to-four decision for it, compared to a 12-to-one vote against on the previous occasion. The chair and vice-chair were in favour, which perhaps helped sway others."

In the event of a third rebuff, the application would have been called in for a final ruling by the secretary of state, yielding probably the same outcome while leaving the council potentially liable for costs, he added.

"Some worry that this will open the floodgates (to new glasshouse developments), but realistically there are no more than half-a-dozen growers nationally with the capital and drive to expand."

Starting in September, the development will be one of the largest in the Lea Valley area since its heyday in the 1960s. Taylor added: "I'm like a kid in a sweet shop looking at what we might put in - lights, double screens, CHP (combined heat & power) - but there are still a lot of questions to ask."

The site, bordering on a regional park, is a significant one for wading birds and includes a 6ha lake. Valley Grown intends it to be a "site of ecological excellence".

Taylor explained: "We could fill it in but that's not us. We aim to enhance the area and footfall in it. It's difficult to hide a large glasshouse in the landscape but it will be sunk and shielded by 20m-high slopes covered with indigenous plants."

The task force is now looking at working in other areas including training and apprenticeships. "With everyone in the room, it's too good an opportunity to look only at planning," said Taylor.

NFU comment

Meurig Raymond, president, NFU

"There is tremendous scope to grow more salad crops to meet demand, but modern agriculture and horticulture require modern buildings and modern facilities. I'm delighted that the planners have recognised this."

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