Do you need planning permission for polytunnels? Unless you live in a National Park, Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty or similar, garden polytunnels usually don’t – but visit the Welsh version of the Planning Portal to check. If you’re on a smallholding you probably will need planning permission, unless the tunnel is going within an existing garden area. But don’t panic – putting in the application isn’t hard, as you’ll soon see.

Planning permission is in fact fairly easy and there’s no need to pay hundreds of pounds for a consultant to do it for you. All the relevant materials are available online, and the whole thing should only take a few hours to put together. If you have email, a digital camera, a basic drawing programme and online banking (to pay the fee) it’s even easier, as then the whole thing can be done online.

The details are different according to where you live: England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland all have separate processes. This post covers what you need to do if you live in Wales, while future posts will deal with the other parts of the UK.

First, don’t be fooled by thinking that because a polytunnel is not a permanent structure it won’t need planning permission, because it might. Polytunnels tend to stay where they’re first put and therefore have ‘a degree of permanence’ – which means it still has an impact on the landscape, wherever it’s sited – and, how that is interpreted is not up to you.

If you don’t want to go the route of full planning permission, you can apply for a ‘certificate of lawfulness’. However, that can actually add future risk, as it can lead to an argument over how to interpret the law. It’s usually better to apply for full planning permission. This is more simple, but your application can be viewed by the public – meaning that people could complain.

In practise, one or two complaints are not usually a big deal and are up to the planning officer. Five or more complaints is a much more serious matter, as is a petition against the proposal. However, a planning officer should only look at the considerations involved (such as how your proposal will affect the ‘amenity’ of a neighbour) and these considerations must be able to withstand an appeal. So, don’t worry about bribery and corruption – this is a very transparent process and if someone is acting unfairly, this unlikely to go unnoticed.

There are two basic types of planning permission for a polytunnel: domestic, and agricultural.

Planning permission for domestic polytunnels

If you have a ‘domestic’ situation, meaning you plan on putting your polytunnel in your garden, then you probably don’t need any planning permission at all. However, do read these pages to make sure what you have in mind will be OK, because there are restrictions on placement and size – especially if you live in a National Park, Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty or similar.

Planning aside, you will want to preserve the goodwill of your neighbours. Talk to them beforehand, and reassure them as far as you can. The two items they’ll probably worry about are 1) noise, and 2) visual impact.

Noise: If the cover has been put on properly a polytunnel should make no sound at all, even in a strong wind. If there are flapping sounds it’s the polytunnel cover trying to escape – and you have a major problem because it’s come loose! You can hear rain falling on a polytunnel if you stand close to it, but, really, who is going to be standing around listening to your polytunnel when it’s pouring with rain?

Visual impact: This is more likely to be a problem. Polytunnels are big, white objects. Even if the cover is transparent, the overall impression will be that it’s close to white. If your neighbours will be able to see it, they probably won’t really like it. This doesn’t mean you can’t go ahead anyway – but upsetting the neighbours is a bad idea. If they’re upset, or just unsure, try offering them on-going organic vegetables (think of this as a ‘carrot’ – sorry!).

The fee: Domestic planning applications in Wales are priced according to the number of units (a unit being 75 sq. m.) which the proposed structure will cover. Each unit, or fraction thereof, currently costs £330.

Polytunnels on smallholdings and farms

If you have a smallholding and you want to site a polytunnel somewhere on it but NOT ‘within the curtailedge’ (garden), then you probably will need planning permission. ‘Largerholdings’ such as farms often have permitted development rights built-in, but smallholdings don’t.

Don’t apply for the wrong thing – If your polytunnel is for domestic use, i.e. you’re growing food in it for yourself and your family, you might think that you want domestic planning permission. However, that could be a big mistake, because if the land on which it will be put is designated as agricultural, what you’ll actually be asking for is ‘change of use’ permission for part of it – i.e. exactly what you’d need to do if you planned on building a house on it. And that kind of permission is much less likely to be granted. Instead, allow some space in the tunnel for growing a cash crop for sale through a local grocer, deli or similar. Remember, you can grow things in your tunnel that other local growers will struggle with.

The fee: A flat fee of £61 is currently charged, so long as the floor space doesn’t exceed 400 sq. m. – which would be a Very Big Tunnel Indeed.

If you plan on putting up one, two, or even three polytunnels, a single application can cover all of them. Then, if you find yourself well and truly bitten by the polytunnel growing bug, you can sell your produce perfectly legally – not something usually permitted under domestic permission, which doesn’t include commercial businesses.

Whether your application is domestic or agricultural, here’s what you need to submit:

The Application Form

This can be downloaded here. While most of the questions are straightforward, one or two are tricky: Question 19, for example, deals with ‘non-residential floor space’. Your application probably counts as ‘other’, and should be filled in accordingly.

A ‘Design and Access Statement’

This should detail ‘accessibility, character (including amount, layout, scale, appearance and landscaping), community safety, environmental sustainability, and movement to, from and within the development’.

There may also be ‘material planning considerations’ which should be included, if for example you have had a reciprocal agreement with your neighbours over vegetable gardening in the past.

A ‘Location Plan’

This should show 1) each structure as a red outline, with measurements, on a map from an approved source (there are four ‘site location plan creator’ sources listed here), and 2) a simple side, front and top diagram.

The plan also needs to show two 6-figure map references (blurred out in the image) giving the precise location of the site.

planning permission polytunnel plan

The plan you submit must include a site map from an approved source, and…

planning permission polytunnel diagrams

…diagrams showing top, side and front views, with measurements.

A cover letter

‘Please find enclosed our application for…etc.’

If you have received a visit from a planning officer, give his or her name and any advice you’ve been given.

The fee

Don’t forget the fee.

It’s a good idea to call your planning department and talk about your proposed application. Ask if they have a local email to which you can submit your application, and discuss what you’re going to send and if there’s anything else that they need you to mention.

The whole process takes roughly 8 weeks. You’ll receive notification whether your application is OK or needs adjustment, whether the fee is correct, and when the process should be completed. Good luck!

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