Parish votes against renewal of the Penshurst polytunnels

    PENSHURST villagers are up in arms over attempts to make 37 acres of polytunnels, the equivalent of two 02 Arenas, a permanent feature of the pristine Wealden landscape.

    In an unusually well attended meeting of the Parish Council [July 26], which saw around 70 people turn up, councillors debated the future of the site at Salmans Farm that is situated in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

    It is believed around 100 objections to the proposals have been submitted to Sevenoaks District Council – the local authority that deals with planning in the village.

    The polytunnels were erected in 2002 but the ‘temporary permissions’ for their use, which allow a variety of fruits and vegetables to be grown outside of their usual seasons or environments, runs out in November.

    The company which operates the site is Maidstone-based Clock House Farm and the ‘temporary’ permission was last renewed in 2010.

    One staunch opponent, Susan Coleman, is the Conservative Candidate at Thursday’s District Council by-election for the ward of Penshurst, Fordcombe and Chiddingstone.

    Ms Coleman said the ‘majority of residents’ are opposed to the applications. She claims that making the polytunnel farm permanent is ‘unlikely’ to bring local economic benefits or employment ‘given the experience to date.’

    In addition, she states the local infrastructure is ‘unsuitable’ to support the traffic movement needs of the operation, and that new methods of farming have made the use of tunnels obsolete. She added: “Temporary permissions should be just that, otherwise they are not really temporary.”

    Representatives of campaign group Protect Penshurst said allowing the tunnels to be made permanent will mean there is ‘nothing to stop other acres of plastic appearing’ in the surrounding areas.

    However, project supporter Wendy Bastable said making the structures permanent would simply mean retaining the status quo, which the village was ‘already accustomed to’.

    In addition she claims supermarkets ‘insist’ on berries being grown under plastic to maintain their quality throughout the year, adding: “Surely we would all rather buy locally produced food, than that produced abroad, which is less environmentally friendly due to transport impacts and often grown to lower standard.”

    Parish councillors voted against making a recommendation to the District Council to grant permission to make the tunnels permanent. Clock House Farm had not responded to a request for comment as the Times went to press