An Angus fruit-picking farm has been granted permission for caravans for it seasonal workers to remain on site for the next five years, following months of uncertainty for the industry’s future.
WH Porter’s West Scryne Farm near Carnoustie was granted temporary planning permission by Angus Council for 11 caravans to be occupied by seasonal workers between January 31 and November 30.
It comes during a turbulent period for the fruit-picking industry, which like so many other trades has been threatened by the Covid-19 pandemic.
At the beginning of the outbreak earlier this year, a call was put out to local residents to help out on farms across Tayside to make sure enough fruit was getting picked and delivered to the shops.
Many farmers said they feared thousands of tonnes of fruit would be left to rot in the fields if coronavirus travel restrictions led to a shortage of berry pickers – for the past two decades, around 80% of Scottish soft fruit farmers’ employees have come from overseas.
For example, John Laird from Cairnie Fruit Farm in Cupar said he had not hired a local picker since 2000, and said the majority of his temporary workforce came from Bulgaria and Romania, saying he was “desperate” for pickers at the start of the lockdown.
Each caravan will include five beds split over three bedrooms as well as a bathroom and a shared seating area.
In approving the application, Angus Council said the caravans must only be occupied on a temporary basis, and said no one should be staying in them between December 1 and January 30.
During January and February each year the workers staying in the caravans will be building the polytunnels to cover the fruit plants – during these two months it is anticipated 10 workers will be staying on site.
From March through to mid-November the workers will be picking and packaging the fruit, and the 11 caravans on site are expected to be full at this point.
In its decision notice, the council said: “The proposal is in accordance with the development plan as it is compatible with the locational criteria identified in the plan and as it does not give rise to unacceptable impacts on amenity, natural and built environment, road safety or infrastructure subject to conditions.
“There are no material considerations that justify refusal of planning permission contrary to the provisions of the development plan.”
Within the next two months, the farm must write back to the council’s planning bosses to show the area where the caravans are sited is accessible for emergency vehicles.
The farm must also provide proposals on how it will carry out regular inspections, maintenance and repairs on the caravans.
The caravans have already been on the farm for a number of years, but after its previous planning permission ran out in July this year, the farm was obligated to reapply to planning bosses for permission for the next five years.