Wednesday, January 8, 2014

What policies are needed?

A stab at planning policies for food and farming

The 2013 Real Farming Conference  identified the need for development plans to provide a policy framework to enable the growth of local food, production, processing and distribution (see previous blog).  This is a stab at helping with what should be a concentrated effort by all planners at local and parish/neighbourhood level.  These ideas could be amended and incorporated in development plans and supplementary planning documents.  The carbon footprint of food supply (between 30% and 50%) should be sufficient to make food and farming policies essential to any plan that could claim to be contributing to the achievement of sustainable development (a basic condition of all neighbourhood plans) or following the golden thread of sustainable development that is  part of National Planning Policy Framework  and the basis of the presumption on which the grant of planning permissions should depend.  The following policies are also intended to address the social and economic elements to the concept of sustainable development;  The affordability of suitable housing and its proximity to the workplace and  social facilities in the towns and villages.

It is sufficiently important to say now and in closing this blog that local farmers and landowners should be involved in preparing planning policies and proposals for farming and food as significant progress could be achieved outside of the planning process that wil only be relevant when new development is being proposed.

Working to the proposition that “local food" implies an integration of the use of land around towns and villages with the local population it is in the urban/village fringe where  It should be a purpose of the development plan to enable new smallholdings  to be established. This could be achieved by incorporating  land adjacent to a development site into the application and being proposed for  horticultural  use.  The development plan will the first reference for the determination of application and "local food" is of sufficient public importance to justify policies as being suggested.  However, development plans can also be used to designate land within the plan area eg the land most suitable for horticultural crops, community woodland, orchards, wildlife corridors, ponds and wetland, pasture  - indicating how growing the agricultural uses can be integrated into the landscape.

 While the use of land for this use (i.e. agricultural purposes)  is not development requiring planning permission, including the land within an application site  planning conditions  can be imposed relating to its  future use,  including erection of buildings and structures required for the growing of crops and keeping of livestock.

If there is no suitable adjacent land  and no other  suitable and available land within the ownership of the applicant) then  the policies should explain and justify why it would be reasonable to require financial contributions in order to  secure land within the   vicinity of the new housing. The previous blog explains how  contributions to SANG land secured by district councils in Surrey.

Having established the justification, a policy could be glossed along the following lines:
 "Applications for all new residential development must include a 'Farming and Food Assessment' (FFA).  This assessment will demonstrate how a minimum of (I think  there is evidence to show  that one 10th of an acre or the equivalent in monetary value  relating to local land prices) will be provided on the application site or as contributions through planning obligations or  the Community Infrastructure Levy.   The FFA will also explain how these  this agricultural/horticultural  land and/or operations  will contribute to the growing, processing and distribution of local food."

It would be sensible  for the development plan/SPD to provide guidance as to the meaning of “local food"  and the ways in which holdings could be  managed (eg leased  -  with conditions - from parish  or councils  or from organisations like the Ecological Land Cooperative).

This is drafted as a generic policy that would have to be adapted to local circumstances and evidence available. The  evidence  provided in support of “local food" might dispose of the need for further policies in respect of the provision of local employment  (and training), the reduction in transport, the increasing biodiversity (including  soil quality and carbon sequestration).  there are very large areas of the country covered by relevant land-use designations that would have to be specifically addressed. In these cases I would suggest an approach starting with, “Notwithstanding  the landscape protection implied by the designation as National Park/AONB,  overriding weight will be given to policies  in this plan supporting the development of small holdings on the fringes of towns and villages".

The green belt is not specifically a landscape protection policy but, again, might be regarded as an obstacle to the development of smallholdings. This topic should be approached by the plan stating that green belt  around urban areas are typically the most suitable  for use to grow, process and distribute local food. In these circumstances the buildings enabling these rural enterprises to be established will be regarded as “appropriate development".

One of the most important aspects to “local food" will be the access to affordable housing (rent or sale at price related to income from holding) as well as affordable land. In these circumstances  The policy along the following lines might be appropriate:
"In any proposal of 5 or more dwellings proposed on the edge of a town or village   at least one  will be expected to be made subject to  somebody wholly or mainly employed in agriculture,  the occupancy  of which will be secured through planning condition  or obligation."

"Where a dwelling is being proposed on the edge of a town or village to be used to house an  agricultural worker, the  assessment of the need for a dwelling (in the FFA) will include the  proximity to the  agricultural enterprise and also  the affordability of suitable and available accommodation in the area."

There is much more work that needs to be done in formulating policies that will be acceptable to local and neighbourhood planning  authorities but, hopefully, these suggestions will be useful in getting farming and food policies into development plans that should be positively seeking to enable the very significant number of people wanting to be involved in the production of local food achieving their ambition. But, to end, I must repeat that this important engagement with the planning system should not be an alternative to constructive engagement with local farmers and landowners who might also see the advantage in  development plans addressing their ambitions.

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