Concern that a group of polytunnels could be having a negative effect on a nearby site of special scientific interest has prompted a council to put a grower's planning application on hold.
Tom Busby of TW Busby & Son had his application to retain some 50 acres of polytunnels on his Staffordshire farm put on hold while Natural England investigates the structures' effect on wildlife in Aqualete Mere.
Natural England wrote to Stafford Borough Council's planning committee, saying: "Despite the consultation responses from the Environment Agency and Staffordshire Wildlife Trust recommending that you consult with us, you have not done so."
Members of the council responded to the letter earlier this month by voting in favour of deferring the application until an appropriate assessment is carried out. The polytunnels have been on the site for seven years but this is the first time their impact on the environment has been formally questioned.
Busby told Grower: "During the past 24 months the council has started stipulating all conditions on which planning can be approved - and making sure all the conditions are implemented.
"We (the growers) are having to source a lot more information than we did four or five years ago. But on the whole the councils have so far been relatively supportive - they acknowledge the economic benefit that soft-fruit growing brings to the region.
"There are several soft-fruit growers in this area so they (the council) just want to make sure they have the whole (polytunnels) situation under local control.
"The mere is a mile away. It (Natural England) is concerned that an area of the estate could have soil erosion and that the quality of water might not be as clean. This might have an affect on the wildlife and, in particular, the population of otters if they go upstream. Ultimately the site hasn't been properly assessed on that basis.
NFU highlights land-use variation issues
The way in which farmers and growers vary the use of a particular piece of land has been highlighted by the NFU.
Responding to the Government’s proposal to introduce biodiversity offsetting, the NFU said: "Binding land to a specific management regime ‘in perpetuity’ is a significant undertaking that will require very considerable and matching assurance as to income and liability."
This practice of biodiversity offsetting would see developers offset the environmental impact of their development by paying farmers or landowners to provide new habitats for wildlife.
But the NFU commented:
"One of the biggest barriers to land coming forward for biodiversity offsetting is the green paper’s assumption that land will be given over to biodiversity in perpetuity."
It added that much more work needs to be done before the Government makes any decision.