There are no unequivocal guidelines for polytunnels (and few ‘useful’ precedents) so Planning Authorities have to apply their own interpretation of the rules on a case-by-case basis and, therefore, may adopt different approaches to planning applications. The presumption in favour of sustainable development and the emphasis on supporting the rural economy contained in the NPPF, might now have a bearing on the relative weight given to benefits and impacts.
These are some of the factors that have to be taken into consideration:
- If the polytunnel lies within the curtilage of the property, it is treated in the same way as an outbuilding would be. In other words:
1.1. Subject to complying with the limits and conditions on size, siting and use applicable to outbuildings generally, it may be permitted development not needing planning permission.
1.2. Outside those limits, planning policies relating to non-PD outbuildings will apply.
- If the polytunnel lies outside the curtilage of a property:
2.1. Does it amount to a ‘development’? This will depend on the type and scale of the polytunnel, based on all material considerations including its dimensions, physical attachment to the ground and degree of permanence (“size, fixing method, permanence”).
2.2. Is it agricultural permitted development – falling within the limits of what farmers can do under agricultural permitted development rights – and therefore does not require a planning application? Note that even in such circumstances, the local planning authority has some influence on siting and scale.
2.3. If it does require full planning permission, Planning Policies relating to the protection of the AONB, Green Belt, rural character and neighbour amenities, may come into play.
Where 1.1, 2.1 or 2.2 apply, there are no grounds for intervention by the Society, unless, of course, it is arguable that the application falls outside the specified conditions.
Where 1.2 or 2.3 apply, the Society’s position should primarily be based on the objective of avoiding or minimising any detrimental visual or other impacts to the countryside, especially within, or affecting the setting of, the AONB.
In some circumstances proposals can be ameliorated by landscaping, adjustments to siting, or operational conditions; and seeking mitigation of this sort may in some cases be a more viable alternative than outright opposition.
In this context the NFU and British Summer Fruits Ltd., published a voluntary code of practice in 2007, which, amongst other things, proposes that any plan for siting polytunnels should:
- avoid damaging views by planting hedgerows and trees
- avoid siting polytunnels within 30 metres of residential dwellings
- limit working hours
- prepare landscape impact plan and adopt measures to mitigate visual impact.
Planning Field Officers can assist Local Planning Authorities by drawing to their attention any indications and/or observations that the erection of polytunnels is being considered, or is taking place.
Revised September 2013