Dated 15 October 2002
Addressed to Councillor T.M. James
Leader of the Council
County of Herefordshire District Council
P.O Box 239, Hereford, HR1 1ZU
Dear Cllr James
CONTROL OF THE USE OF "SPANISH" POLYTUNNELS IN AGRICULTURE
Thank you for your letter of 16 September to the Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State, about the use of ‘Spanish’ polytunnels for soft fruit growing.
I am sure you will understand that it would not be appropriate for me to comment on any specific cases that might come under consideration through the planning system. More generally, the Government has made it clear that it wished to see a more flexible, diverse, competitive and environmentally friendly agricultural industry. I agree that planning systems must be supportive of these aims.
In the case of polytunnels, I understand the principal problem arises where they are placed temporarily, without any permanent fixtures, on agricultural land and used for agricultural purposes. In these circumstances, they are usually deemed to be a use of land for agriculture and therefore exempt from planning controls under the provision of section 55 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. As such, the use of these temporary structures is not amenable to control through any modification of planning policy guidance, or changes to the General Permitted Development Order (GPDO). Rather, it would require a change of primary legislation, likely to have a wider and possibly less desirable consequences, for which we have no plans at present.
Whether any particular structure, be it a polytunnel or something else, is deemed to be a temporary or more mobile structure, or whether it constitutes operational development, will depend on the facts of each case. There is a body of case law on this issue, covering a range of circumstances. Though this may not be directly relevant to the use of Spanish polytunnels, it is apparent that the Courts place weight on several particular factors, which are likely to indicate the degree of ‘permanence’ of a structure. These factors are reflected in the advice given in paragraph C11 of Annex C to PPG7.
We shall shortly commence a full review of PPG7, in line with proposals set out in last year’s Planning Green Paper. As part of this review we shall look at the advice in Annex C. In the context of temporary agricultural structures, I doubt that it will be possible to be more specific about any particular type of structure, because of the need for each case to be considered on its merits. But we can see if there is any scope for providing further general guidance on this issue.
I do not see the need to amend the GPDO specifically in relation to the use of Spanish polytunnels. Where the use of these structures for agricultural purposes is deemed to be operational development then, subject to the conditions set out in Part 6 of Schedule 2 therewith, they will be covered by the GPDO.
The proposal for a local code of practice on the use of polytunnels seems sensible and could, potentially, be a helpful initiative. If such a code proves practicable it could, as you recognize, have wider applicability. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is also likely to have an interest in this proposal and if you have not already done so, you make like to contact DEFRA team in the Government Office for the West Midlands.