Polytunnels are a hugely useful asset to those who may require them but are often controversial in terms of their appearance and impact on neighbouring properties amenity. Some farmers can be opportunists and will often take chances on what they think is legal in planning terms. Often, the types of opportunities are ‘temporary’ structures such as polytunnels which are used for a wide range of farming activities. Most commonly they are for soft fruit production, but also they are used for housing livestock during busy periods such as lambing and storing seasonal crops such as fodder beet. A common theme in these uses is the ‘temporary’ or ‘seasonal’ nature of the use.
However, just because the use of the polytunnel may be seasonal or temporary throughout a year, each polytunnel proposal and the subsequent planning requirements will depend on a number of factors. These factors include the extent, size, scale, permanence, moveability and the degree of attachment to the land. Whilst there is some room for interpretation of these factors, court decisions have established that if a polytunnel proposal is of significant size, has substantial degree of permanence and physical attachment to the ground then it does constitute development that requires planning permission. Development is specifically as defined in the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.
Looking further at these factors, and whether something constitutes a truly temporary structure, traditionally a temporary structure is by definition not attached to the ground. The most common query relating to polytunnels here is that the steel structure is often driven into the ground to provide stability, thus constituting a more permanent structure. Also, you have to look at the length of time that the structure is in one place, and if left in situ for 3-4 months it could constitute a permanent structure.
It is key to remember that for permitted development proposals they need to be completed within five years, however, full approvals only need to be commenced within three years. Both options do, therefore, give opportunity to plan ahead and have a consent ready in advance for when it is needed rather than seeking permission at the point it is actually needed. It is also important to remember that what could have been permitted development, confirmed via the prior approval route before construction, cannot be regularised retrospectively through the prior approval route, it must be regularised through a full application which brings a differing level of application requirements and assessment criteria.
This is why it is always important to enlist the help of a planning professional early on who will be able to advise on your proposals and whether permission is needed. If permission is needed we can then assist with making the appropriate application for the polytunnel in good time to ensure you are in a position to put the proposal up when the business needs it.
As alluded to above, there are two options available to farmers for securing permission. The first option is to utilise permitted development rights to gain prior approval for having a polytunnel on site. If the polytunnel is proposed to be on an agricultural holding of five or more hectares, under Part 6, Class A of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 2015, it allows for the erection of a building which is reasonably necessary for the purposes of agriculture within the unit. This provides the ability to erect up to 1000m2 of building (i.e. 100m2 of polytunnels). Thus, provides a very useful option for agricultural property owners subject to qualification with all the relevant criteria.
The second option available is the use of a full planning application. This route however is naturally more onerous as applications will have to comply with any relevant local policy, the public will be able to submit comments, and the scale, size and impact on amenity surrounding the proposed site will be able to be assessed by the council. Thus, a more challenging route to choose but there are advantages and disadvantages to both depending on the site objectives or plans for the future. It is always advisable to consider the interaction of permitted development rights with other farm proposals for the future.
If you are considering the installation of a polytunnel on your holding or have any further queries about this or any similar matters, please do get in touch with us at Eldnar Consultancy to discuss your queries and your potential options.