Norfolk farmers will benefit from a ruling by The Court of Appeal to over-turn a decision by the High Court against polytunnels erected on a farm in Herefordshire.

The legal dispute began after a conservation group, the Wye Valley Action Association (WVAA) challenged a decision by Herefordshire council to grant planning permission for polytunnels at Homme Farm, near Ross-on-Wye, in the picturesque Wye Valley. The WVAA appealed against the planning decision in the High Court, where a judge found the council had made an “error of law” by failing to ensure an environmental impact assessment had been carried out at the site in compliance with a European Union directive. The judge ruled the site should be subject to an impact assessment because it was close to a conservation area and a site of special scientific interest overlooked by a historical monument, Goodrich Castle.

On 26 January 2011, the Court of Appeal overturned the ruling and found that Herefordshire council had reached a “rational conclusion” that no impact assessment was necessary because the land was already in use for the production of soft fruit and arable crops. The case involved the interpretation of a regulation which states that assessments must be carried out where there are plans for “the use of uncultivated land or semi natural areas for intensive agricultural purposes.”

Howes Percival’s Planning Partner, Trevor Ivory commented: "Polytunnels are an important part of modern agriculture. Farmers are still dealing with the fallout from a previous court ruling that they need planning permission to use them. The additional costs and uncertainties that come with having to comply with the EU's environmental impact assessment regime would have had a major detrimental impact on the industry.

"This decision will be generally welcomed by the farmers as the potential impacts go beyond the use of polytunnels and touch on all applications for planning permission on cultivated land."