Judge rejects claim council was misled by Herefordshire polytunnels planning report

Countryside campaigners have failed in an effort to halt the construction of 11 blocks of polytunnels on 37 hectares of Herefordshire countryside, after a judge rejected a claim that members had been wrongfully advised on the application in a planning report.

London's Royal Courts of Justice
London's Royal Courts of Justice

Alongside the polytunnels, Withers Fruit Farm Ltd also plans to install caravan accommodation for 350 seasonal workers on a site near Ocle Pychard which measures a total of 145 hectares.

Local objectors expressed concerns about traffic noise, the behaviour of fruit pickers and the impact on the local bat population.

They also said the development would harm the valued landscape and compromise local water supplies from the Rivers Lugg and Wye.

But, despite that, Herefordshire Council granted planning permission for the development in January this year.

Challenging the permission at the High Court, in Birmingham, the Campaign for Rural England argued that the council's decision-making process was seriously flawed.

But Mr Justice Stuart-Smith rejected arguments that councillors had been wrongly advised by a planning officer that no weight should be given to the government's polytunnels planning guide.

The judge said that, on a fair reading of the officer's report, councillors had merely been accurately advised that the guide was not a formal planning policy document that had been subjected to public scrutiny.

The officer's report properly addressed the potential impact of the proposals on ecology and biodiversity, the judge added, and Withers had submitted a detailed landscape and visual impact appraisal, prepared by reputable independent consultants.

Arguments that the council's decision was infected by procedural unfairness were also rejected.

The fact that certain documents were placed on the council's website only three or four working days before the critical planning committee meeting had caused no prejudice to objectors, the judge ruled.

And Withers' assessment of its economic need for the development did not have to be disclosed for public inspection because it contained confidential commercial information, he added.

The planning permission was upheld.

R on the Application of Campaign to Protect Rural England v Herefordshire Council & Anr. Case Number: CO/992/2019

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