British strawberry supplies to supermarkets could be severely disrupted from next year if anti-polytunnel campaigners get their way, a leading grower has warned.
S&A Produce, which claims it is the largest independent soft fruit business in the UK, lodged a planning application with Herefordshire Council last December for 67ha of fixed polytunnels and accommodation for up to 1,000 seasonal staff.
Herefordshire officers had provisionally recommended approval, albeit with conditions, but last week the expected planning decision was postponed at the 11th hour after local campaign group Arrow Valley Residents Association lodged a second set of objections. The move prompted the planning committee to defer its decision, on legal advice, until 7 August.
AVRA, which describes itself as “against the development of fields covered in polytunnels, and their supporting infrastructure, in order to preserve the Arrow Valley”, has been engaged in a running battle with S&A since 2004. S&A has to remove its current temporary polytunnels, due to be decommissioned at the end of this season, to comply with new local regulations classifying the structures as permanent and requiring planning permission. Some other councils still support temporary tunnels. If it fails to get its plans through it could be catastrophic for S&A’s ability to produce, claimed planning manager Rebecca Edmonds.
“These plans are absolutely crucial in terms of our company being able to maintain its supply and its position with key supermarket customers,” she said. “If we didn’t get approval you could say that S&A’s soft fruit growing would be significantly reduced. We wouldn’t disappear but you could see a reduction in scale.”
S&A, a £45m business, produces 10,000 tonnes of strawberries a year, the vast majority of which are grown under polytunnels. Its customers include Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and Lidl.