STANDING UP FOR THE COUNTRYSIDE

Ocle Pychard Polytunnels (P182191/F)

Update 26.5.2019 - Overview of Planning Application for Ocle Pychard Polytunnels (P182191/F), our objections to the proposal and our legal challenge

“Whilst some people may not like their (polytunnels’) appearance, others may well accept them as the sort of features one expects to see in the modern countryside”.  This is the astonishing claim made in th recent planning application for a polytunnel development in Ocle Pychard (P182191/F).  (Landscape and visual impact appraisal (LVIA) paragraph 8.3.10). 

This proposed development is huge: 64.6 hectares (159.6 acres) in total, the equivalent of 100 football pitches, with 37 hectares of polytunnels up to 5.2 metres high, a reservoir of 200,000m 3, conversion of agricultural buildings to managers’ dwellings, outbuildings and space for 72 caravans for 350 seasonal workers.  The application was made piecemeal in two separate applications and a third, for a very large reservoir, was allowed as ‘permitted development’. 

In autumn 2018 HCPRE was approached by residents from Ocle Pychard, a small village, concerned about this planning application.  HCPRE agreed that the development was inappropriate and lodged an objection.  This is not just a local issue - it is an issue for CPRE nationally.  Whilst we support diversification in farming where development is of an appropriate scale and respects the character of our beautiful landscapes, many polytunnel proposals fail to do so.  Furthermore, this kind of cultivation ‘table-top’ could take place on brownfield land1 with no need to destroy good agricultural/greenfield land.  The Ocle Pychard proposal will have an impact on the whole neighbourhood affecting roads, views, wildlife, heritage sites and the amenity of local residents.

Panorama from the Conservation Area in Winter

Strong local interest, including from the Parish Council, generated 231 comments on the Council’s planning website, the majority being objections.  Local residents – some living just 20 metres from the site, which was formerly a tenanted livestock farm, say the development will affect their quality of life.  This kind of fruit farm generates many vehicle movements a day within as well as to and from the site.  Picking starts around dawn, and light pollution will be significant.  The proposed buffering of high hedges and tree planting will not mitigate these impacts. 

Visually the proposal is out of harmony with the pattern of the landscape: Principal Settled Farmlands 2 which are characteristically fields bounded by hedges supporting mixed farming; and the adjacent land of Riverside Meadows2 and Principal Timbered Farmlands2 – characterised by hedge boundaries, ancient woodlands, filtered views, organic enclosure pattern and small-scale landscapes.  In such a setting these tall, closely packed plastic tunnels, and caravans will be totally incongruous and highly visible.  This is not what most people would regard as a “normal” rural, agricultural development.  Indeed the developer’s LVIA (paragraph 8.3.13) damningly admits that “Overall, whilst there would clearly be a substantial change in the character of the application site itself, the effect on the character of the surrounding landscape will reduce with distance....  the proposed development is assessed as having a High and Long Term adverse scale of effect on the character of the application site itself”. 

Indeed, the polytunnels will be visible from many footpaths, including the nationally important Three Choirs Way, bridleways YK15 and WS3, footpaths WS1, OP10 , OP12, the A465 and local roads, the Ocle Pychard Conservation area, Shucknall and White Hills, whilst footpath OP8 passes through the site.  The polytunnels will have a profound effect on the intrinsic qualities of the Herefordshire countryside, qualities which form the basis of tourism in the county. 

The land is Grade 2 agricultural, (Best and Most Versatile Agricultural Land 3 ) restored to health after intensive arable farming by tenants encouraged to farm livestock by their landlord, Herefordshire Council.  Using such high-grade land for ‘table top’ (in trays above the ground) growing which makes no use of the excellent fertile soil, is contrary to National Planning Policy (para 112).  This is industrial farming.  Habitats, wildlife and landscape will suffer. 

Herefordshire’s own Core Strategy recognises this stating (Section 5) “locally-distinctive assets...  both natural and man-made, are finite and irreplaceable and any detrimental impacts can carry cultural, environmental, economic and social costs”.  Moreover, the local Neighbourhood Development Plan, recently adopted, is clear about the value of the landscape ‘a pleasant lowland landscape of orchards, hedged fields, and scattered dwellings and farmsteads.  There is no formal designation, but the landscape is valued locally.  This is shown by responses to the residents’ survey...’ and further that they will be (policy OPG1) ‘taking (sic) all opportunities to protect and enhance the distinctive natural and historic environments, with development avoiding undue loss of visual amenity or impacts on landscape character and biodiversity’. 

So, despite the applicant’s agent’s admission of detrimental visual impact, and the Council’s own guidance on polytunnels and policies in the Core Strategy, permission was granted in January. 

HCPRE was surprised at the Planning Committee’s decision.  We considered the Council’s decision was flawed on several grounds.  After much consideration and consultation with the many local objectors we took legal advice and decided that the Council’s decision should be challenged.  The grounds are broadly:

  1. Herefordshire Council has not followed its own guidance on polytunnels (published in June 2018)
  2. The Habitats Regulations’ requirement that an appropriate assessment has to be carried out has not been adequately complied with
  3. Failure to consider all relevant considerations, including whether the landscape in this case was valued, (paragraph 170 NPPF4), impact on the ‘Three Choirs Way’, impact on bat and Great Crested Newt populations.
  4. Poor consultation. Key documents relating to noise, traffic movement and environmental information were published only days before the Planning Committee meeting making it impossible for the public, the Parish Council and consultees to review and comment on them. 

The process towards seeking a Judicial Review was lodged in early March.

 

References

1 See CPRE’s recent publication ‘State of Brownfield 2019’

2 Section 4.3 of the Landscape Character Assessment, Herefordshire Council. 

3 Natural England classification. 

4 National Planning Policy Framework “Planning policies and decisions should contribute to and enhance the natural and local environment by: a) protecting and enhancing valued landscapes, sites of biodiversity or geological value and soils (in a manner commensurate with their statutory status or identified quality in the development plan)

 

Update 15.2.2019 from the Parish Council:

The Neighbourhood Planning referendum took place on 14th February and we are happy to announce that the NDP was approved by the local community. More details can be found on the Referendum Result page.

 

This planning application has been approved.  See below for CPRE's reasons for objection.

HCPRE is vigorously opposing a planning application for a vast polytunnel operation for soft fruit production in Ocle Pychard (P182191/F).  The proposed site is on land recently sold off by Herefordshire Council when it controversially disposed of all the Council owned tenant farms. It had been successfully and profitably farmed by the tenants who had been encouraged to farm livestock to help restore this high-grade agricultural land which had suffered from intensive arable farming methods.

This panorama shows how the proposed development would impact on the landscape, including the Church of St. James the Great, Grade 2* listed.

Panorama from the Conservation Area in Winter

The scale of the proposal is huge: 64.6 hectares (159.6 acres) in total, to include 37 hectares (91.4 acres) of polytunnels with a height of up to 5.2 metres, associated reservoir, outbuildings and space for 72 caravans to accommodate seasonal workers. Soft fruit would be grown on table tops and thus would not make use of the excellent fertile soil. This is industrial farming.

There has been massive and very well-orchestrated local opposition to this scheme.

HCPRE supports innovation in farming where development is of an appropriate scale and respects the character of our beautiful landscapes. We are strongly opposed to this development on many sound planning grounds including: detrimental effects on landscape, loss of visual amenity from important public rights of way including the Three Choirs Way, adverse effects on tourism, poor use of high-grade agricultural land, damage to historic setting and unacceptable loss of amenity to nearby residents.

The application is likely to be considered by the Planning Committee early in 2019.

More photographs of how the area could look if planning is granted:

The view from the Churchyard in winter

From near Upper Castleton

Panorama - Ocle Court