HC Deb 02 November 1966 vol 735 cc436-7
5. Mr. John Wells

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will instruct his local officers to give support to suitable horticultural growers' planning applications for the erection of farm houses on horticultural holdings of less than 30 acres which is the present minimum for general farming, in view of the fact that four acres is considered to be a viable unit under the Horticultural Improvement Schemes.

6. Mr. Loveys

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what assistance he will give to the housing problem of horticultural growers who are moving in large numbers from the Lea Valley and other parts of the country to districts which are now more favourable for the industry.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. John Mackie)

Our officers support planning applications for houses on horticultural holdings, provided they are essential for the efficient cultivation of the land in the long term. The holdings must be viable, but they can be far less than 30 acres. We have no evidence that housing problems are making it impossible for horticultural growers in general to find suitable areas where they can settle.

Mr. Wells

While it is generally true that general agricultural holdings are getting larger, it is also true that intensive horticultural holdings are tending in many cases to get smaller. I, therefore, must urge the Minister to look at this more closely. I ask him to consider the specific cases which I sent to his right hon. Friend, and to look far more sympathetically at smaller holdings which are considered to be viable.

Mr. Mackie

I will bear in mind what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Mr. Loveys

Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that there is very real need for special help where the horticultural industry is increasing, as it is on the south coast? Is he aware that when his Ministry is approached by local authorities his own Ministry's reply is almost invariably "No comment", which is not very enlightening and is interpreted in different ways by different authorities? Does he not think that he ought to give definite support to this particular aspect of the industry at this time?

Mr. Mackie

As the hon. Member knows, we give definite support to houses for key workers, but when horticulturists apply for extra housing it is entirely the responsibility of local planning authorities. Unless we have a long-term interest from the point of view of agriculture and horticulture, we make this "No comment" reply. I know that it is sometimes interpreted as though we are against it, but we are not. We are simply neutral and we try to make this as plain as possible to local planning authorities. I know the difficulties.

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