Ledbury fruit growers are hoping to use a public meeting to discuss issues facing the industry, in the wake of the failure of plans for a workers' village in Leominster.

Growers are concerned about the spotlight being thrown on the role of foreign workers and other sources of criticism, such as the use of polytunnels.

It comes after Herefordshire Council refused planning permission for a 300-caravan village for workers at Brierley Court, near Leominster.

A public meeting has been called by Ledbury Town Council for June 10 at 6.30pm at the Market House to discuss the role of the industry and concerns a Leominster-style situation could develop.

Representatives are expected from local fruit farms such as Haygrove, Withers and Houlbrooke's.

Local fruit farms already house foreign workers in caravans, though not on the proposed scale of Brierley Court.

Angus Davison, of Haygrove Fruit, Redbank Farm, Little Marcle Road, said: "If we cannot continue to do what we are doing, the next day our big customers would import fruit, probably from Califor-nia. That is the worst case scenario. It would be hard to get one's place again."

Mr Davison, chairman of the national consortium KG Growers, said he has been employing foreign fruit pickers for 15 years and pays them more than the national minimum wage.

He said: "They do a good job, they can earn money, progress their education and improve their language skills. They are the equivalent of our gap year students."

He estimated that 40 per cent of salaries were spent in local businesses.

His views were echoed by Herefordshire councillor Rob Manning, who represents Frome Ward and backed the Brierley Court application.

He said: "In the 1950s, my own grandparents employed hundreds of people at hop-picking times. These fruit pickers are college and university students seeking to better themselves. They are not illegal immigrants and we have to treat them properly."

Ledbury's new mayor Jayne Roberts, said she feared the demand for labour from farms in the area may result in a similar plan locally and wanted it discussed publicly.

"As businesses grow, they will be looking for a bigger workforce and will need to house students in a purpose built village, call it what you will," she said. "These foreign students will not go away. They will always be here, in possibly increasing numbers."

Town councillors are likely to express concerns about pressure already put on local infrastructure by fruitpickers, such as on the NHS.