Polytunnel ban puts jobs at risk, says Herefordshire fruit farmer

Hereford Times: Neil Cockburn with fruit pickers Anna Kowalczyk, Rasma Mielliauskait and Maria Stach at his farm in 2006. Neil Cockburn with fruit pickers Anna Kowalczyk, Rasma Mielliauskait and Maria Stach at his farm in 2006.

THE owner of a fruit farm at the centre of a polytunnel planning battle claims there will be job losses if Herefordshire Council succeeds in “driving” him out of business.

Neil Cockburn, who produces soft fruit at Pennoxstone Court Farm in King’s Caple, this week told a planning inspector at a public inquiry that polytunnels were integral to the success of his business.

The inquiry is the latest in a long line of appeals and court orders that date back to 2006 for the business that is sited within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

Last year, county planners rejected Mr Cockburn’s application for a 10-year permission to erect and rotate polytunnels on a 25-hectare area in the Wye Valley AONB.

Since then, he has been served an enforcement notice for “siting polytunnels without planning permission” and he has appealed to the secretary of state against the refusal of the development.

He told the inquiry this week his business would not be sustainable without the polytunnels which allow him to produce the best “class-one” fruit.

“Growers in Herefordshire would not be able to produce the quality and quantity of fruit without these tunnels,”

he said. Without them, fruit would be “extremely vulnerable”

to bad weather and disease, the inquiry heard, while they also reduce the amount of pesticides used.

“If we don’t reinvest we will start to go backwards as competitors overtake us,” he said.

“If the enforcement notice is upheld this will occur partway through a season and cause huge financial loss.”

Mr Cockburn also answered alleged breaches, and told how he had been unable to complete screening due to criminal damage.

He employs around 14 permanent staff and more than 100 seasonal workers, the inquiry heard, and many jobs would be lost if polytunnels could no longer be used.

The six-day inquiry is set to hear from residents who have concerns about the impact of the polytunnels, noise and an increase in traffic.

Herefordshire Council has also told how the development is “large” in relation to the sensitive landscape, with a negative visual impact.

The inquiry continues.

Comments (6)

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3:11pm Sat 17 May 14

oldergit says...

This is progress. Hereford's lifeblood is its farming. It may be an AONB but I have seen far worse developments. Why kill off this man's livelihood. It's like people who live in the country and moan about **** crowing in the morning. What do the locals expect. If they don't like it move. There are plans for massive housing development in Bartestree but I've no doubt they will go ahead. Ilive there and have had houses built all around me over the last twenty years. Get on with life!
This is progress. Hereford's lifeblood is its farming. It may be an AONB but I have seen far worse developments. Why kill off this man's livelihood. It's like people who live in the country and moan about **** crowing in the morning. What do the locals expect. If they don't like it move. There are plans for massive housing development in Bartestree but I've no doubt they will go ahead. Ilive there and have had houses built all around me over the last twenty years. Get on with life! oldergit
  • Score: 7

3:15pm Sat 17 May 14

oldergit says...

For readers of this the asterisk word is the word for the male gender of hen. HT asterisked it, not me!
For readers of this the asterisk word is the word for the male gender of hen. HT asterisked it, not me! oldergit
  • Score: 3

3:16pm Sat 17 May 14

oldergit says...

I've just realised. Should we call the farmer Mr. ****burn?
I've just realised. Should we call the farmer Mr. ****burn? oldergit
  • Score: 6

4:29pm Sat 17 May 14

DaveGlo says...

The council allow BIG producers to run riot with planning permission and ignore them for fear of losing business in the county.Why do they pick on small producers.Why do they designate area ANOB and then allow the very big companies to put up poly tunnels in those areas.Are they afraid of the consequences?
The council allow BIG producers to run riot with planning permission and ignore them for fear of losing business in the county.Why do they pick on small producers.Why do they designate area ANOB and then allow the very big companies to put up poly tunnels in those areas.Are they afraid of the consequences? DaveGlo
  • Score: 3

7:49pm Tue 20 May 14

avaniceday says...

DaveGlo, the reason big companies get what they want is simple, MONEY. They can afford the high flyer solicitors, and can well afford to 'grease palms' along the way. The local, true Herefordian trying to compete with them has no chance.
DaveGlo, the reason big companies get what they want is simple, MONEY. They can afford the high flyer solicitors, and can well afford to 'grease palms' along the way. The local, true Herefordian trying to compete with them has no chance. avaniceday
  • Score: 4

10:51am Fri 23 May 14

David Phelps says...

Mr ****burn a small farmer? Really?
Mr ****burn a small farmer? Really? David Phelps
  • Score: 0

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