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Herefordshire growers gets permission for polytunnels

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Herefordshire-based soft fruit producer Withers Fruit Farm has won a long planning battle to construct polytunnels on 37 ha of land.

The company successfully challenged a judicial review against Herefordshire Council, led by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), which sought to overturn an original planning decision to allow 11 blocks of polytunnels.

Herefordshire Council, whom the claim was first brought against, conceded on CPRE’s ground that the guidance set out in the council’s own Polytunnel Planning Guide created a ‘legitimate expectation’ as far as the application procedure was concerned

Law firm Thrings, advised Withers Fruit Farm to step into the role of defendant against CPRE, who failed to convince the judge of any of their arguments, including that the council had ignored the visual impact of the project, as well as its effect on local biodiversity.

Fred Quartermain, associate planning solicitor at Thrings, said, “We are pleased to see the courts confirm what we knew to be true: that guidance is guidance, and not prescriptive policy.”

George Leeds, who owns and runs the farm with his family, is an active member of the NFU in Herefordshire and a subscriber to its national Legal Assistance Scheme (LAS). The scheme provided financial support towards Withers Fruit Farm’s legal costs. He said: “While this challenge to our planning application has been frustrating and delayed investment in the farm, work with local businesses and employment by approximately one year, we are delighted with the overall result. It was particularly reassuring for us to see every single point in the judicial review brought by the CPRE rejected by the judge.”

Trevor Foss, chairman of the NFU Legal Board added: “A fantastic result for our member and hopefully other growers in the West Midlands who may find themselves in a similar situation in the future.  Farmers need to be able to expand their businesses through the normal planning process and not have to go to the High Court to do so.  The LAS is very pleased to have been able to offer its support towards our member’s costs in this matter.”

Thrings is a member of the National Farmers’ Union’s (NFU) legal panel for seven counties in south-east England. The NFU provided financial support towards Withers Fruit Farm’s legal costs.

Photo credit: Wye Fruit

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