The factory production of mushrooms in a purpose built growing and incubation room, office, laboratory, plant room, cold store, packing area, and boiler room does not require farmland. It needs a factory.
But in its usual cack-handed way the WLBC planning system works against logic and so intends to allow a significant and controversial expansion of a Scarisbrick mushroom farm. This will be an early Boris the Builder infrastructure revolutionary planning decision, a “bugger off to objectors” decision. Get used to it, there will be others!
The proposal is recommended for approval by the council’s Director of Place and Community despite the opposition of four parish councils, dozens of residents and a campaign which has seen signs erected through the village and a public meeting attended by around 70 people.
In her report to the committee, Heidi McDougall argues that allowing the expansion will keep jobs in the area and boost the local economy. If approved, Smithy Mushrooms Limited (SML) will be able to expand its business by buying adjacent land to build on.
The new building will extend to approximately 17,561m2 and would be accompanied by a car park with 58 spaces. SML started as a small family business over 25 years ago and has grown to become a leading UK supplier of exotic mushrooms, including oyster, shiitake and coral. It supplies Marks and Spencer, Booths, and Tesco as well as major food service wholesalers and food processors and ready meal companies. It employs 38 full time staff and has an annual turnover of £5.6m but has exceeded capacity at its existing site and fears being squeezed out of the market if it cannot expand. Smoke and mirrors!
The plans to build the 7.9m (25ft) tall structure have created anger in the wider community and residents have campaigned against its approval. The parish councils for Scarisbrick, Wrightington, Newburgh, and Burscough have all formally objected to the council, as has the Campaign to Protect Rural England.
Among the reasons stated for objecting are the size of the new building; the increase in traffic including HGVs; loss of diversity of land use; impact on pink footed geese,
whooper swans and other birds; and the potential loss of Grade 1 agricultural land.
In her report for the planning committee, Ms McDougall states that as the new structure is for agricultural purposes, it does not represent inappropriate use of Green Belt land. She states that the new building will create a “vertical landmark” but that harm caused to the visual amenity “is limited as key features of the landscape would remain including the existing pattern of field boundaries”. Have you ever read about vertical landmarks limiting harm to existing patterns of field boundaries?
Her report concludes “The proposed development would allow a local employer to remain in the area and expansion of the business would bring benefits to the local economy. The design of the building is appropriate, would not result in significant harm to visual amenity or the character of the landscape and there would be no undue impact on highway safety, residential amenity or biodiversity”.
West Lancashire Borough Council’s virtuality planning committee will decide on the application during its virtual meeting on Thursday, July 9, after which we all might conclude holding public meetings and objecting is a waste of time.