Soft fruit grower John Busby said he has taken a risk by pressing on with installing the new structures at his Derrington farm. He submitted the planning application to Stafford Borough Council more than two years ago and had expected it to be dealt with by the time work was due to begin.
Residents and environmentalists are appalled that the work has started before consent was granted. A leaflet has been delivered to Derrington residents saying the action is “making a mockery of the planning system and democracy”.
The leaflet added: “The permanent polyhouses are hurriedly being erected by Mr Busby immediately adjacent to The Greenway – part of the National Cycle Network and one of Stafford’s few precious tourist attractions. If completed, they will be seven metres tall and will cover over nine acres.
“The field is now a building site rather than farmland/countryside. The banks and verges along the access route, the tiny Crossing Lane, are already deteriorating due to the huge vehicles accessing the site.
“This development has not got planning permission. Mr Busby has been advised to stop work by the council’s Enforcement Officer but he is choosing to ignore planning regulations and due process.”
Stafford Borough Council has received 70 objections to the application to install polyhouses and ground source heat recovery for the production of soft fruit on a permanent basis on land west of Stallbrook Hall, Crossing Lane. Objectors fear existing flooding issues in the area will increase and there are also concerns about more traffic through the village and risk to other users of Crossing Lane, such as walkers, wheelchair users, horse riders and cyclists.
Borough councillor Tony Pearce, who represents the neighbouring Doxey ward, said: “‘Given the opposition to this development and the dangers it poses to the environment and residents of Derrington, it is astounding and appalling that Mr Busby has gone ahead with it without obtaining planning permission. The borough council should immediately put a stop notice on it to prevent further building work taking place.”
The application was submitted in April 2020. Since then there have been a number of amendments to the plans.
Mr Busby, who is deputy chairman of Seighford Parish Council, said the new polyhouses would enable the strawberry growing season to begin earlier and reduce reliance on fruit imports from overseas. He said the polyhouse proposals had required a higher level flood survey than his previous applications.
He added: “All the rain water will be collected from the roof and held in a collecting reservoir and then be used to irrigate the crop being grown.
“Using current data from the industry, we will only collect 90 per cent of our requirements this way, meaning we will have to transfer water from our current site to enable us to irrigate the crop. The rain water will be held in a collecting pool and any excess will then go in to the main newly constructed reservoir.
“We are going to plant two hectares of trees and we have proposed planting more trees along the Millennium Green. We ordered the strawberry plants for that field in April last year and thought planning permission would have been granted by now.
“I accept I am taking a risk but I think the risk is worth taking. I am not breaking any law.
“I have lived in the village 55 years and I want to work together with people. We have had no objections from the two parish councils.”
Stafford Borough Council has yet to make a decision on the application.
Council spokesman Will Conaghan said: “We have visited the site and warned them of the consequences of carrying out any works which do not have planning permission. There will be a report coming before a special meeting of the planning committee soon and will include a visit to the site.”