Public support flagged for polytunnel approvals

Applicants advised to stress economic and environmental benefits to win communities' acceptance for farm schemes.

Soft fruit growers thinking of putting in planning applications must engage with the public more to maximise their chances of success.

This was the message given to delegates at this year's Fruit Focus NFU/Syngenta Bioline Forum by NFU planning policy adviser Ivan Moss.

He said that although the planning system was in the middle of "huge upheaval" and policy guidance was still awaited, the Government's aim to promote localism would see planning decisions move from regional to neighbourhood level.

That could provide a recipe for nimbyism, which he described as a depressing prospect. "The public view the countryside as providing nice things to look at rather than about businesses growing food," he said.

He advised planning applicants to present all the benefits of their schemes to the public via the parish council. "Promote all the economic benefits. Environmental benefits can also be a big plus - consider joining the Campaign for the Farmed Environment and include it as part of the application."

Herefordshire grower Neil Cockburn, who grows 44ha of soft fruit and has had polytunnels on his farm since 1993, said planning laws were stifling UK fruit production.

He has just concluded a five-year planning battle with Herefordshire Council following its decision to tighten up on polytunnel schemes.

"As a rough guide, in Herefordshire an average planning application to keep tunnels would cost about £60,000. That is a major brake on the UK being able to feed itself, reduce reliance on food imports and provide jobs for people who live locally. The Fruit & Vegetable Task Force has flagged up this issue - hopefully some good will come out of it."

View of the future Strong growth signals

UK horticulture has a strong future, according to Herefordshire grower and regional NFU horticulture chairman Anthony Snell.

It has the right horticultural tools in fantastic soils, the right climate and water that produces great products that are good to eat. And global signals suggest rising demand. Climate change would also deliver new opportunities, he said.

While research and development would help the UK make the most of its position, NFU president Peter Kendall suggested growers should be prepared to invest more: "We have to show we are willing to back that brighter future."

That might attract other sources of investment, particularly from retailers who could secure tax breaks on very large profits, Kendall added.

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