Harrogate planning inquiry to decide fate of proposal for mushroom farm expansion

The controversy triggered by a Yorkshire-based mushroom firm's proposal for a £4.5m expansion have sparked a four-day planning inquiry.

The inquiry into Greyfriars' plans was due to start this week at Harrogate Borough Council. It marks what could be the end of a £100,000 three-year process for the grower, which is based in the small village of Wath near Ripon, north Yorkshire.

The company has had numerous rejections despite the economic benefits the proposed 7,000sq m mushroom farm could bring to the region. Local residents and councillors have continuously opposed its plans because they fear that the expansion could have a detrimental impact on the local landscape and traffic flow.

The opposition was so fierce that a local action group, Wath Against Mushrooms (WAM), was formed. The nature of the group's concerns are similar to those experienced by many soft fruit growers during the past decade.

As the horticulture industry has seen, locals in rural regions of counties such as Kent and Herefordshire have often opposed growers' plans to assemble new structures on the grounds that they would be detrimental to the landscape.

Greyfriars managing director John Smith said: "We have one or two vociferous locals who think that it is more important to have green fields than it is to create 60 jobs and put £1m into the local economy."

He added: "We still do our farming in a field but our opponents say it's not proper agriculture. When you look at the 1.5 acres that we want to cover with growing tunnels we would be providing 2.5 tonnes of food an acre.

"If you compare that with sectors such as wheat or poultry, we are probably going to provide the highest possible level of food production per square metre possible."

"The new plans will even reduce traffic. They are going to upgrade one of the nearby minor roads to enable us to take all of our traffic away from the villages."

A spokesman for WAM told the Yorkshire Post last month: "Greyfriars' expansion plans have so far been comprehensively rejected by the local community, the council and now by planning inspectors. When will they get the message. The countryside is no place for this development."

Greyfriars' has applied to expand adjacent to its existing farm by building several growing sheds - one of which is 100x70m - and staff facilities.

The plan was first submitted to the council in June 2009 but it was rejected. Subsequent smaller plans submitted as a compromise were also refused.

Greyfriars launched an appeal against the rejection of its original plan last year, which was heard in November with the judge making the decision to hold this week's inquiry. The outcome of the inquiry is expected by the end of the year.

Planning Policy

"In cases such as this there are often two issues that growers face. First, if there's a big lobby against the plan it's often a simple question of the planning committees counting the number of 'no' votes. Second, those who make the decisions might not fully understand the industry. Fortunately, in Herefordshire and Kent a lot of the councillors understand what is required. Growers have to learn that there's a big community engagement element involved in planning applications. The public view the countryside as being nice to look at rather than about businesses growing food."

Ivan Moss, planning policy adviser, NFU

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