A combine harvests a cereal crop

Legal pitfalls of polytunnels

“I see polytunnels are back in the news again. I am thinking of branching out into growing soft fruit but because of the rather exposed position of my land I shall need some sort of cover. As the law stands what are the limitations on the use of moveable polytunnels as opposed to permanent, fixed ones? I am not near any AONB or other protected site, and my land can only be overlooked from a road about half a mile away.”

Whether polytunnels require planning permission will depend on the type and scale of the polytunnels proposed. Their size (not just in terms of each tunnel but also the area of ground to be covered), their degree of permanence and the way the tunnel is fixed to the ground will all be relevant. Unfortunately, there is no general rule and each case must be decided on its facts.

The fact that a polytunnel is “moveable” does not automatically mean that it does not require planning permission. Most polytunnels are taken down or moved on a regular basis yet they may still require planning permission. Indeed, in the Hall Hunter Partnership case, the polytunnels would only remain in one location for between three and seven months but they were still held to be structures requiring planning permission. In addition, if a structure is “moveable” but is not moved in practice, this will be taken into account in determining the permanence of a structure.

If planning permission is required, the application will be determined in accordance with the prevailing planning policy unless other material considerations dictate otherwise. The local planning authority should balance the visual harm of the polytunnels against the need for the polytunnels and any other economic benefits that may accrue.

As you state that the site is only visible from one public view point, it is likely that the visual impact of the polytunnels will not be significant. The fact that the site is not within or adjacent to a protected landscape will also be of assistance in this regard.

It is instructive to look at recent planning appeal decisions. In June this year, planning permission was granted on appeal for 18 ha. of polytunnels in Kent (five blocks of tunnels each with an overall height of between 4.25-4.75m and with a span of 8.5m.). The Inspector found that longer range views of the site included various settlements, industrial estates, glasshouses, electricity pylons, polytunnels, netted hop gardens, and open and plastic covered arable fields. In this context, the Inspector found that the development proposed would appear as a very minor element in that landscape and would not appear as a new, unusual or unduly obtrusive feature. The Inspector concluded that the limited visual harm of the tunnels was outweighed by their substantial benefits for the rural economy.

Alternatively, the polytunnels may benefit from permitted development rights. For example (subject to certain conditions), the erection of a polytunnel of no more than 465m2 on a holding of over 5 ha., would benefit from permitted development rights. More than one “building” can be erected at any one time. However, they must be at least 90m from another building.

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Further reading

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