The co-owner of Valley Grown Salads (VGS) has slammed a local authority as a “total disgrace and abuse of public money” after a tortuous five-year battle to win planning permission for the company’s major glasshouse expansion.
Jimmy Russo said Lee Valley Regional Park objected to the planning twice, before losing an appeal and then attempting to gain a hearing at the Supreme Court leading to costly legal bills for the salad vegetable packer and marketer. “These are some of the battles we have faced,” he said.
Russo was speaking today (20 May) at the glasshouse’s official opening in the Lea Valley, which was attended by growers, friends, family as well as NFU president Meurig Raymond, who cut the ribbon on the new facility.
“This project has no downside,” continued Russo, before thanking both the NFU and the Lea Valley Growers’ Association (LVGA) for their support during the planning process. “Hopefully this has set a precedent for all growers regarding planning.”
Russo also gave special thanks to his brother, Vince Russo, who he said has been involved with every stage of the process.
Raymond said the glasshouse opening could be a “turning point” for the British fresh produce industry. “I hope this is the turnaround point for Lea Valley and for British fresh produce,” he said. “British self-sufficiency in food has been falling over the last few years, and policymakers should be concerned. But there are opportunities to be had, and it takes individuals like these to make them happen. On behalf of the NFU, I am delighted to be here.”
Speaking at the event, LVGA secretary Lee Stiles said: “Five years ago, planning permission for this facility was declined twice. Then followed years of meetings with counsellors, ministers and others – we even ended up in a meeting holding up a tomato and a pepper. And that day they made the decision to approve it.”
Head of agronomy at VGS’ key customer Waitrose, Alan Wilson, said: “This is a statement of your relationship with your team, your industry and your country. We at Waitrose are immensely proud of what you’ve achieved. We know what you’ve been through and we want to support you.”
Vince Russo also spoke at the opening and thanked all contractors and companies that helped to install the glasshouse.