A Kent fruit farm is awaiting a final decision on planning permission for permanent polytunnels in a move that would safeguard the future of the business but has faced strong local opposition.
Salmans Farm, in Penshurst, which is part of the Clock House Farm business, has previously been granted permission for temporary polytunnels on the site, but had been asked by Sevenoaks Council to apply for permanent permission.
The decision, which has faced public opposition on the grounds of disfiguring the landscape and a potential increase in seasonal labour, is due to be released this Thursday (19 October).
Without the polytunnels the farm will not be able to remain profitable, said manager Oli Pascall. He said: “My father and I took over the tenancy here in 2013 and we have gone to great lengths to improve the environment on the farm as well as meeting the demands of modern soft fruit production.
“We are not looking to make any changes to the type of polytunnel used or to increase their use beyond the current areas. Without the protection offered by the polytunnels, our farm business would experience more risk, would be less able to invest in and plan for the future and we would not be able to grow the quality of fruit which is demanded by our customers here in the UK.”
“Polytunnels have to be used, they are a requirement of all UK supermarkets to ensure that the fruit is of high enough quality. Sevenoaks Council has previously allowed us to apply for temporary planning permission, however the council now feels that permanent consent is more appropriate, so we have to apply for full planning permission, even though they are not used all year round.”
One local resident who lodged an objection wrote that the development will bring “no benefit to the local area as employees are mainly immigrants”. “This is an industrial and unsightly plan. It will cause tremendous pressure on local infrastructure,” they wrote.
Another objector wrote that the permanent polytunnels will allow the company to have seasonal worker caravans on site, and voiced concerns over where these would be located. Salmans Farm has also applied for permission for four on-site caravans, which would be the total amount on that farm site.
Pascall said that without the polytunnels, the future of the farm is “at immediate risk” and with it the jobs of 10 full-time employees who live locally, as well as 20 seasonal workers who have been with the company for the last eight years.
“The farm also contributes widely to the local economy, with payments to local suppliers totalling around £250,000 annually,” he added.
“We will be deeply disappointed if the council don’t choose to continue to support our farm business and this decision may have a knock-on effect on the livelihoods of many other fruit growers and their employees in the region.”
Clock House Farm’s soft fruit is marketed through Berry Gardens, with topfruit marketed through Fruition.