A HEREFORDSHIRE fruit grower whose family have farmed in the county for generations has won an eight year polytunnel planning battle.

Neil Cockburn’s application for the plastic tunnels, used to protect crops and extend the growing season, at Pennoxstone Court Farm, Kings Caple, has been backed by a planning inspector.

The NFU described the decision as "vital" for the rural economy in securing a future for the business with its 150 jobs and boosting horticulture in the county.

Mr Cockburn has been fighting his planning battle since 2006 as the business is in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

The application to retain 25 hectares of polytunnels that the business needs to survive was initially approved by Herefordshire Council’s planning committee but has been subject to a judicial review, appeals and other legal wrangling over the years.

Neil and his wife, Izabella, said they were "delighted" at the result which brought eight "very difficult" years for the family business to an end.

There are a range of conditions attached to the permission and the business will implement a landscape management and habitat conservation plan for the site.

The inspector said there was “a very strong economic case” and recognised the AONB was a living and working landscape, “largely created through human intervention, where agriculture has taken place for many years and the natural beauty of the surroundings is, at least, partly as a result of the cultivation of farmlands”.

Sarah Faulkner, NFU environment and rural affairs adviser, said: “Farmers and growers are custodians of rural areas but we must also remember that the countryside is a working landscape.

“The NFU works closely with planning authorities and while this has been quite the process we are pleased as this is a victory for this business and Herefordshire horticulture."

NFU regional director John Mercer said polytunnels were a vital element of the "good news story" that is the region’s soft fruit and horticulture sector.

Mr Cockburn has grown strawberries at Kings Caple for more than 30 years with the business itself dating back to the 19th century.