Lea Valley Growers Association
37-39 Turners Hill
Hertfordshire, EN8 8NP
Secretary - Lee Stiles
9am to 5pm Monday to Friday
Find out the latest news at Lea Valley Growers Association.
Established in 1911, today the Lea Valley Growers Association represents over 100 members and 95% of protected Horticultural growers in the Lea Valley.
The Lea Valley is the UK’s largest Cucumber producer accounting for 80 Million sticks per annum representing up to 75% of the UK’s total Production and 70 Million Sweet Peppers representing over 50% of the UK’s total production.
The Lea Valley today and historically is a vibrant area of Protected Horticultural production, producing food entirely for the UK market to arguably the highest food safety standards in the world.
The Lea Valley Growers also produce edible crops such as Tomatoes, Aubergines, Lettuce, Baby Leaf Salads & Herbs as well as ornamental crops such as Bedding Plants, Trees, Shrubs & Flowers.
Members of the Association grow edible and ornamental produce under approximately 300 acres of glass, half of which falls within the Epping Forest District.
Agriculture & horticulture employment is 2,700 FTE jobs (4.84% of total employment in the Epping Forest District)
Defra’s Rural Statement (September 2012) underlines the governments commitment to Rural England and reflects their vision of successful rural businesses based around three key priorities of Economic Growth, Rural Engagement & Quality of Life.
The government have initiated a wide range of significant national-level policies and initiatives, designed to promote business and deliver growth in both urban
and rural areas, such as cutting red tape, simplifying the planning system, delivering new infrastructure and supporting
business, particularly SMEs who make up a significant element of the Lea Valley rural economy.
Defra's Food 2030 report sets out the Government's vision for a sustainable and secure food system for 2030.
The strategy is structured around six core issues for the food system, four of which are clearly supported by proposals in the Lea Valley:
In 2009 the Lea Valley Growers Association were named as stakeholders by the London Assembly for their consultation into the promotion of Commercial Food Growing in London.
The planning and housing committee conducted a review of the role of the planning system in supporting horticulture in London, with a particular focus on commercial food growing.
The aim was to assess how effectively the planning system supports and encourages food growing in London and calls for changes to the planning system to exploit the capital’s potential to become more self sufficient.
As a result the following recommendations were made.
The Mayor should include in the London Plan reference to Green Belt Policy (PPG2). To better support the objectives of the London Food Strategy, Draft policy 7.16 (Green Belt) should specifically state that food growing is one of the most beneficial land uses in the Green Belt. Draft policy 7.16 should also include a requirement for boroughs to give added weight to food growing as one of the most productive activities in the Green Belt when preparing policies for their Local Development Frameworks.
The Mayor should commission an assessment of sites owned by the GLA group regarding their potential for short or long term urban horticulture for commercial growing opportunities in the next two years. Boroughs should do the same for Council owned land as well as existing brownfield sites through the LDF process.
The Mayor should add to policy 7.22 under “LDF Preparation” that Food Growing is one of the most productive land uses in the Green Belt and is relevant to Outer London Boroughs.
The Association recommends the following on behalf of its members:-
Permit larger taller glasshouses within designated areas to continue to support high technology food production.
The LVGA considers that glasshouses of around 7m tall are now an essential requirement for a modern, competitive commercial nursery and the new Local Plan’s policies should support such proposals.
The Council, to its credit, has already granted planning permission for a number of tall glasshouses of around this size, including at Low Hill Nursery at Sedge Green; Tomworld at Shottentons Farm, Pecks Hill; and Netherhall Nursery at Netherhall Road.
The Council’s Glasshouse report compares the Lea Valley with one of its major competitors in Kent (Thanet Earth) and comments as follows:-
The glasshouses are 7.28 metres tall, use recycled water, have thermal and light screens and use artificial lighting which allows an all year round growing season.
This compares to a typical Lea Valley glasshouse which will have a 32 week growing season i.e. peppers and cucumbers have a 67% longer growing season and tomatoes have a 136% longer growing season compared to the Lea Valley.
The intention is that the site will be able to produce 15% of the UK salad crop production.
The highly efficient system and longer growing season mean that Thanet Earth will have a higher output per m2 compared to the Lea Valley.
It is understood that Thanet Earth potentially yields up to 100% higher than the average Lea Valley grower and 20 – 40% higher than the best growers in the Lea Valley.
The use of artificial lights and light screens allows the season to start earlier and end later when other glasshouse production would have ended.
It is understood that the light screens mean that light pollution is very low with less than 5% in the local area (although this area is much less populated than most of the Lea Valley).
The artificial light means crops can be planted earlier, start producing earlier and the season is extended. In the Lea Valley the growing season is typically 32 weeks compared to 37 – 52 weeks at Thanet Earth.
Taller glasshouses lead to increased production for a number of reasons: -
Consider expanding existing areas designated for glasshouses
It is essential that established nurseries, both within and outside the designated glasshouse areas, have scope for expansion, so that they can have an opportunity to expand their business and to increase their economies of scale to improve their productivity.
For some nurseries there is no realistic hope of expansion due to insurmountable site constraints, but for other nurseries expansion of their existing nursery is the best and most economical solution to expansion.
The Association considers the existing E13 policy to be outdated and is having a significant adverse effect on the growth and future viability of the Lea Valley Glasshouse Industry.
The Association presumes that Epping Forest District council planning officers and councilors share this view as the policy is not being followed.
The Association is aligned with other UK Growers Associations such as the West Sussex Growers Association in preferring a criteria based policy.
The proposed criteria should include:-
This will allow the minority of growers (Less than 10%) who wish to expand the opportunity of doing so either immediately adjacent to their existing nurseries or on larger pieces of suitable land elsewhere in the district.
The council’s current approach of designating large areas of unsuitable & Financially unviable land for future growth potential (Such as CWS Nursery, Hoe Lane & Parklands, Waltham Abbey) only serves to increase the value of that land and therefore renders it un-economic for horticultural use.
The councils E13B policy – Protection of Glasshouse areas, states that the council will refuse any application that it considers likely to harm the future vitality and/or viability of the Lea Valley Glasshouse Industry.
10.104L states that where appropriate in implementing the above policies, the council will consult the Lea Valley Growers Association and seek other expert advice.
The Council quite clearly are failing to follow their own E13 policy as the Association have obtained a response to a freedom of information request (IR01067) (Appendix B) which confirms that the Council have only consulted the Association once in the last 10 years (EPF/0166/11).
Two notable applications have been granted for non Horticultural use on designated horticultural land in the district in Hoe Lane, Nazeing (EPF/1907/10) where members approved an application for a Care Home on E13 designated land next to an existing Glasshouse Nursery that now has to find alternative revenue streams or face closure.
Secondly in Pick Hill, Horticultural land has been approved for house building which again restricts the opportunity for existing nurseries to expand.
The LVGA believes there is scope for expansion of the following glasshouse areas: -
Designate new sites for glasshouse development, not restricted to the Lea Valley.
The LVGA wishes all its members to be able to expand their nursery business, should they wish to do so.
For several growers the best prospects for expansion are adjacent to their existing nursery. For example at Valley Grown Nurseries in Paynes Lane, Nazeing the owner has made substantial investment in his existing nursery at the site and the expansion on to the adjoining land, either to the south or to the west or both, would bring considerable economies of scale and would be preferable to developing on a new site elsewhere, which would have considerable startup costs.
Similarly at Tower Nursery, Netherhall Road, Roydon there is scope for considerable enlargement of one of the existing nurseries business by expanding on to land to the north.
However some nurseries are effectively landlocked, either by other nurseries, other existing development, the steepness of adjoining land, or by the willingness of the adjoining owner to sell or dispose of the land. For these growers the only solution would be to designate one or more large sites elsewhere within the District to which they could either relocate or where they could develop an additional nursery.
The Councils Glasshouse report recommends a further 300 hectares of glasshouse development will be required over the next ten years.
The majority of this will be used by less than 10% of the growers.
New & Existing sites should make provision for Renewable energy generation and Affordable workers accommodation, both of which should be supported by the council.
The Strategic Land Availability Assessment May 2012 commissioned by the Council states 11.12 F, In Rural areas one of the attractions is to be away from employment areas and high streets. Opportunities for Live/Work units and these were identified as the best opportunities for reuse of brown field land or redundant sites. Business/employment can detract from character in villages and housing presents opportunities to improve character in rural areas. Glasshouses remain a viable option in some rural areas.
Proposals to install modern energy and heat infrastructure, in the form of an anaerobic digestion plant & Combined Heat & Power, demonstrates a commitment by Lea Valley Growers to reducing energy use and recognition of the environmental benefits, in particular reduced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, associated with this kind of technology.
This kind of proactive approach will contribute to the UK cutting its GHG emissions by 80% within the next forty years, as required under the 2008 Climate Change Act.
"Since 2007, the Association has supported the NFU in leading the joint agricultural Climate Change Task Force in recognising the many opportunities for agriculture and land management to tackle climate change, and in developing a Greenhouse Gas Action Plan for our sector.
Robust responses have been submitted to government consultations on its Renewable Energy Strategy and incentive schemes for renewable electricity and heat.
A substantial low-carbon contribution is expected from the many forms of bio-energy, much of which can be supplied from within the Horticultural & agricultural sector.
It is the Associations and the NFU's stated aspiration that all farmers and growers should have the opportunity to diversify their businesses and create 'green' jobs by supplying renewable energy services. Farmers have always produced both food and non-food outputs, and we do not see any conflict between our contribution towards both food security and energy security.
The NFU has been closely involved in the development of successive policies on anaerobic digestion (AD) and Combined Heat & Power (CHP).
We support the current Coalition Government aspiration for a 'huge increase' in energy from AD, and have played a prominent role in the development and delivery of the 2011 AD Strategy.
The NFU developed the ambition, shared with many other organisations, of deploying 1000 farm-based anaerobic digesters by 2020, delivering multiple environmental benefits including low-carbon energy, abatement of greenhouse gas emissions and stimulation of good nutrient recycling.
The LVGA believes that Epping Forest District should take responsibility for meeting the expansion requirements of the nurseries within its area because:-
A comprehensive search is required to identify land suitable and available for glasshouse development away from existing designated areas but within Epping Forest District. Possible areas of search include: land close to J26 of the M25; north and south of the A121 near Waltham Abbey; at North Weald Airfield; and elsewhere in the North Weald/Hastingwood area, close to J8 of the M11.
It is important that any such search looks rationally and logically at the whole District, and takes into account land ownerships constraints (unless the Council expresses a positive intention to use compulsory purchase powers to assemble suitable land).
Create policy “buffer zones” between new designated glasshouse areas and existing residential areas, so that taller glasshouses can be built without adversely affecting the light and visual amenity of nearby residents.
The designation of land as being within a glasshouse area does not automatically mean that tall glasshouses could be built right up to the boundary of the area.
Even now, when planning applications are made for the construction of glasshouses within glasshouse areas development control officers give careful consideration to the visual impact of the development on the amenities of local residents and the possible effect of overshadowing or loss of light.
The LVGA does not therefore believe it is necessary to create “buffer zones” as described, as the issues arising from the development of tall glasshouses would be tackled as part of the normal development control process.
Encourage the County Council to prepare a Freight Management Strategy to include the Nazeing and Roydon Areas.
The LVGA believes that the local horticultural industry often unfairly gets the blame for heavy traffic on local roads, much of which is generated by other non-horticultural businesses operating in the area; and businesses from outside the area using local roads as a rat run to avoid congestion elsewhere (especially on the M11/M25).
Nevertheless the LVGA would positively engage in any attempt by the relevant authorities to improve the freight transport arrangements in the area. The solutions could include:
Introduce a policy of managed decline for the industry.
The LVGA does not believe that “managed decline” would be seriously proposed by the Council. This would result in a significant increase in dereliction and would also result in a significant loss of employment and economic activity within the Lea Valley.
This would affect not only the nurseries themselves, but the businesses which support them - local plumbers, electricians, engineers and horticultural suppliers. It would also have a harmful effect on social and community cohesion.
Allow derelict sites to be developed for residential housing or other commercial uses, where it can be shown that the existing use is not financially viable.
The LVGA is optimistic about the future of the local horticultural industry, but for businesses to succeed they require a reasonably successful base from which to expand, and suitable land for expansion.
There are several examples of nurseries which do not have either of these. They are usually already in a poor condition, on a relatively small site with out of date glasshouses and facilities, and often landlocked due to adjoining land either being unsuitable or unavailable for expansion.
It is unreasonable to expect these businesses to invest to improve their existing site, without the prospect of being able to create a nursery of a viable size. It is highly unlikely that such sites could attract outside investment. In these cases the LVGA believes that, in order to deal with the problem of present or eventual dereliction, the Council should designate such nurseries for new residential or commercial development.
There is a recent precedent for this approach. In the West Cheshunt area of Broxbourne Borough extensive nursery dereliction in the 1980s led to large swathes of nurseries being designated for residential development. On sites less well-related to the built up area Broxbourne Council adopted a policy of permitting low density development, at around 4/5 dwellings per acre, to preserve the character and appearance of the area.
The LVGA considers the following sites to be derelict, or approaching dereliction, with no reasonable prospect of expansion and therefore suitable for allocation for alternative use: -
The Association proposes that the council adopt the following criteria to establish whether a Nursery will be economically viable during the period of the Local plan.
Co-operate with adjoining authorities to investigate the options for identifying new sites for glasshouse development
As stated above in response to option 3, the LVGA believes that Epping Forest District should take responsibility for meeting the expansion requirements of the nurseries within its area because:-
Notwithstanding the above, with the present lack of any regional co-ordination of planning policies, it is difficult to see how horticultural development could effectively be planned for at a regional or even sub-regional level.
Engage with the LVRPA to discuss an agreed approach to continued glasshouse development in the Lea Valley.
The LVGA recognises that the LVRPA has achieved much in the last 45 years in developing and improving the Park as an area for leisure and recreation.
However the Park is home to more than leisure and recreational uses and a wide range of other activities and interests compete for space.
The formation of the park in 1966 has significantly reduced the acreage of glasshouses in the Lea Valley from 727 to 150 (appendix d).
The parks strategy of buying nursery land on the pretence of finding suitable alternatives for displaced growers has worked to their advantage, however, the culture of obstruction and unwillingness to engage with growers has resulted in nearly an 80% loss of glasshouse area in this period.
The Parks strategy of buying land adjacent to existing Glasshouse nurseries has resulted in the strangulation of those businesses, dereliction and alternative uses.
Appendix (C) shows examples of park land surrounding existing nurseries where no activity or access takes place, yet the park refuse to discuss its sale to adjoining nurseries to assist their viability.
The LVRPA’s own strategic aims, as set out in the 2010 Park Development Framework include the following:
“The Park is home to many different activities that support modern urban life: drinking water supply, disposal of waste, production of food and energy, sand and gravel extraction, flood water storage, electricity pylons, waterways, roads, and railways.
“We want a Park that can provide and accommodate these important functions, while allowing people to use and enjoy the facilities on offer, supporting wildlife, and contributing to a sustainable future for all.”
There is a strong case for existing nurseries being permitted to remain and expand within the statutory boundaries of the Lee Valley Park: -
Therefore the LVGA considers that the Council should designate suitable sites within or adjacent to the Lea Valley Park for the expansion of existing viable nurseries.
The sites considered by the LVGA to be most suitable for designation within or adjacent to the Park area: -
On the 29th March 2012, a delegation of growers from the Lea Valley Growers Association attended a meeting at Myddleton House with officers from the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority to discuss specific proposals for Land purchase, letting or exchange.
The officers refused to discuss the specific sites that are land banked by the Lee Valley park and therefore are restricting the growers economic viability, furthermore they declared that the authority would not be prepared to discuss any options with growers.
The LVRPA Act 1966, 21 (1) states that the authority may Sell, Exchange or let land which is not required for the purposes of its functions. The specific sites above fall within this definition.
Indeed the site in Netherhall road falls within 18 (1) as specifically designated land by the authority to cater for the displacement of growers from other parts of the Lea Valley.
The Glasshouse industry report states that the Lee Valley Regional Park Plan part two, section 2 and especially Section 3 – Broxbourne to Waltham Abbey notes that the two concentrations of glass and industrial buildings (presumably packing facilities) have a visual impact on visitors, fragment the area and generate traffic.
The report makes the point that visitors create far more traffic than the glass sector. Furthermore, the current E13 policy should result in more concentrated areas.
The Glasshouse report states that glasshouses should be recognised and accepted as part of the distinctive landscape character of the area, following existence in the Lea Valley for over a century.
The Park objected to a Growers expansion plans (EPF/1181/11) on the basis of visual impact from another agricultural holding in the Park, seriously impacting on the growers future viability and the existing and potential of 200 local jobs.
The Park should be embarrassed that that they have objected to a development on an existing nursery site even though it borders the park on the basis of visual impact from a fellow agricultural holding.
The Strategic Land Availability Assessment May 2012 commissioned by the Council states 11.6 C iii, Regional Park was identified to be blighting commercial business growth, through opposition to uses that do not conform with their aspirations/policies, including expansion to glasshouse businesses.
The Park have recently sold a substantial area of land adjacent to their head office to Tottenham Hotspur Football Club. A section 106 was used to satisfy the Secretary of state, however, the land is not available for unrestricted use by the general public and the use by a commercial business such as a football club does not fit within their remit.
The Association received the following response (Appendix A) from the LVRPA following its letter dated the 2nd August, which merely confirms the Authorities misinterpretation of its own act, the Councils glasshouse report and its unwillingness to engage.
The Lea Valley Growers Association is the Specialist Glasshouse branch of the National Farmers Union of England & Wales.
The Association will seek to amend the Act to include Food Production to safeguard the industry unless the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority engage with the industry and follow the recommendations of the Lea Valley Glasshouse Industry report that glasshouses should be recognised and accepted as part of the distinctive landscape character of the area, following existence in the Lea Valley for over a century.
The Essex Rural Commission report 2009 recommended the launch of an Essex food policy that will set out, among other things, how local authorities and other public sector bodies can support local businesses.
The growing of Salad crops in the Lea Valley is aspiring for 70% self sufficiency in Water recycling, Heat & Co2 storage, energy efficiency and waste management.
The Lea Valley business model is based upon 6 Packhouse’s marketing Lea Valley produce on behalf of growers directly to the main supermarkets.
Supermarkets demand fresh produce 365 days a year and therefore will not deal directly with individual growers whose season runs from February to October.
Supermarkets constantly demand increased volume and specialist varieties to keep pace with consumer demand and the price of fuel (Namely Gas) economically prohibits an extension to the English growing season over the winter months.
The reality is that unless these marketing companies/Packhouses are encouraged and allowed to expand, the supermarkets will place their orders elsewhere in the UK and abroad, which, will effectively lead to the demise of the whole of the Lea Valley Glasshouse industry, which, supplies the majority of the Capitals 36 hour supply of fresh produce.
Epping Forest District Council has for centuries enjoyed the advantage of a vibrant horticultural industry in its district providing employment & Economic growth.
This is now the time for the Council to demonstrate its commitment to the future of the Lea Valley Glasshouse Industry by shaping its planning policy to meet the current and future demands of the industry and ensure the industry continues to grow for the next century.
Gary Taylor (FI Hort, Miocd)
Lea Valley Growers Association