Soft fruit producer Hall Hunter Partnership has been given leave to appeal against an order by planning inspectors to remove a polytunnel development at its Tuesley Farm site in Surrey.

A High Court judge decided that the application for an appeal against the decision by Waverley Borough Council last year should be granted because it could have a profound effect on all British soft fruit growers.

He said the case involved an issue of national importance, since growing soft fruit in polytunnels in the UK meant less was imported.

And he expressed concern at the prospect of local councils considering polytunnels on a case-by-case basis, when there should ideally be consistency applied to such decisions.

The news was a boost to growers, who depend on polytunnels to improve quality, increase volumes and extend seasons in a competitive market, but face opposition from campaigners who claim polytunnels ruin the landscape.

It is likely to be months before the case is heard. Meanwhile, the NFU, with British Summer Fruits, is developing a strategy for the future. A voluntary code of conduct covering polytunnels is to be made compulsory under farm assurance protocols next year, and growers' leaders will meet local planners.

An NFU spokesman said: "This may end up being a long battle, but it is one that we cannot afford to lose. Whatever the outcome of the appeal, public pressure will require us to rethink our approach to polytunnel use."