Fruit and veg task force calls for planning reforms

THE importance of domestic food production should be stated in national planning policy to make it easier to get permission for the likes of polytunnels, a task force has recommended.

The industry-led Fruit and Vegetable Task Force was set up by the previous Government to come up with ideas to increase production and consumption of fruit and vegetables.

In a report published on Thursday, it comes up with a whole raft of proposals, including measures to reduce the regulatory burden on producers, with reforming planning rules at the top of the list.

The task force says the lack of any mention of food production in current planning guidance goes against Government aims to make made ‘sustainable food security and production a priority’.

It makes it difficult for planners to find the right balance when ‘weighing up complex and conflicting demands for land’, the task force says.

It cites adoption of ‘modern farming techniques’, such as polytunnels, winter storage reservoirs and crop covers, which it says are ‘an important part of maintaining and increasing competitiveness as well as enhancing sustainability’.

In addition, glasshouses, seasonal workers’ accommodation and processing facilities can all require planning permission, the task force says.

But well organised and financed objections mean planning battles over such developments can often drag on for years due to requests for additional information and delays.

“This creates costly processes for local planning authorities and risks of legal challenges and growers are missing production seasons, being effectively in limbo in terms of business planning,” the report says.

The task force believes that the planning process can be streamlined at ‘minimal costs, reducing the administrative burden to farmers without reducing the important role of local decision making’. It is proposing:

  • That a statement expressing the importance of domestic food production in the countryside is included in national planning policy.
  • A review of the evidence requirements for farmers when applying for planning permission to ensure they are consistent with the scale and permanence of the development.
  • Updated planning guidance for a range of matters including polytunnels and accommodation.

Other proposals for Government and industry action covered sustaining R&D capability, improving skills and attracting new entrants to the industry, encouraging collaboration and improving supply chain relationships.

It also suggests that special VAT rates could be reduced for some products in line with the ‘5 A Day’ objective, along with improving existing Government ‘behaviour change’ campaigns, encouraging industry promotions and encouraging people to ‘Grow Your Own’.

Defra said it would support the task force in developing its action plan. Food and Farming Minister Jim Paice said it was a  Government priority to ‘support and develop British farming and encourage sustainable food production’.

We produce some of the best fresh food that you can buy, right here in England.

Increasing consumption and increasing home production is not just good for people’s health, it will develop the market opportunities and the confidence of our growers,” he said.

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