Task force calls for wider support for south-east growers

Growers in the south east of England, and particularly those around London, are facing a ‘triple threat’ of a shortage of land for growing, a shortage of workers, and the ‘just-in-time’ approach to production being taken by the supply chain, according to the final report of the Lea Valley Food Task Force. It recommends the establishment of a new South East Food Strategy Board to tackle the issues.

“Such a body would have greater influence on both local and central government planning policy,” says the report. “It could help create designated food production zones and influence policies by which banks of affordable land for food production are prioritised to underpin expansion in the glasshouse industry.”

The task force was set up by Epping Forest District Council (EFDC) in 2013 to identify barriers to expansion of the Lea Valley glasshouse industry. “One important aim was greater co-operation on planning between neighboring district councils and other statutory bodies to keep the food industry on the agenda in the run-up to finalising local plans,” says its report. “Lack of joined-up policy remains one of the most critical issues and attempts to agree a common planning policy across district and county boundaries have not progressed. However the Epping Forest local plan now recognises the importance of the industry with policies designed to underpin growth.”

The report also calls for grant aid or tax incentives to encourage investment by growers and greater support for skills training and for R&D as well as proposing more radical solutions to problems of high local land values, such as support for investment in vertical farming and even the development of ‘floating greenhouses’ on reservoirs. “We need to halt the drift of food production away from where it is consumed,” the report says.

Liz Ainslie, EFDC environmental co-ordinator, said the issues now needed to be tackled on a wider scale beyond the district council’s remit. She said a number of local authorities, grower groups and other bodies had already been approached about the idea of a south-east food strategy board and an initial meeting could be held in the autumn.

Lea Valley Growers Association secretary Lee Stiles said: “The task force report is a complete contradiction of EFDC’s local plan which seeks to remove previous land protections for glasshouse building, could ‘landlock’ existing nurseries with housing, and even build on established viable nurseries.”