THE bubble may have burst for Herefordshire's "plastic pastures". Acres of polytunnels put up across the county to serve a multi-million pound soft fruit industry may soon need planning permission - and those raised without it will be taken down.

Herefordshire Council's cabinet meets today (Thursday) to debate a High Court decision that could put all polytunnel developments before planners.

The council's environmental scrutiny committee has already voted in favour of the measure.

Before that landmark vote, Councillor Beris Williams warned the committee of an end to strawberry growing in the county if farmers were "forced into a corner".

But the committee's vice-chairman Councillor Sebastian Bowen said plenty of profit was made by developers building houses across the county, so farmers putting up polytunnels should be "held to the same standard".

Once the go-ahead is given, planning officers will check polytunnel sites to ensure they are within the rules. Those that aren't face enforcement action, including removal.

Officers are now working on the criteria by which such action could be brought, although loopholes are already apparent.

The rules will not apply to developments that already have planning permission, nor those that have been up for over four years. There are no plans to compensate anyone claiming to be blighted by polytunnels before the new rules took effect.

At the scrutiny meeting, the council's legal practice manager Kevin O'Keefe said a lack of clear guidance from government or courts over polytunnels meant a voluntary code regulating development had been the best policy.

This changed with a High Court ruling in December, which said polytunnels could be considered development and treated as such by the planning process, he said.

Speaking after the meeting, Edward Kelly, who took the county's Campaign for Polytunnel Control (CPC) nationwide, said the council failed to heed advice that existing case law meant polytunnels needed planning consent.