Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Oxford Real Farming Conference - affordable land

Timetabled as an alternative to the Oxford Farming Conference that caters to the industrial agricultural businesses, in its sixth year the ORFC attracted 650 delegates that makes it bigger (and better?) than its older brother.  DanthePlan was not scheduled to speak but had many chances to offer opinions on what the planning system could and should be doing to help in the renaissance of farming in the UK.
It seems that almost as much energy is being spent on trying to avoid any engaging with the planning system as fighting one of those exhausting and often futile battles with LPAs and Inspectors on the issue of "essential need" for a dwelling in the countryside.  Yurts, caravans, Charter 7, Wales (although somebody explained that welsh planners were not a soft touch) were a few of the ways to avoid having to face up to the problems of providing on farm accommodation.  My response is that it is the (urgent) job of those representing the 'real farming' movement to educate the planners.  The main reason for the lack of empathy and positive response to the needs of real farming is the lack of constructive engagement.  Endless appeals could be fought for isolated dwellings but the only way to normalise 'real farming' would be through development plan policies. That means responding to consultations on local plans and neighbourhood plans (or get onto parish councils/neighbourhood forums) and getting supportive policies into plans under local food and/or sustainable development.

All this has been rehearsed in earlier Blogs (ie one or two of the affordable housing quota being reserved for agricultural workers together with land left over from the housing development).  However, when a delegate claimed that land prices were going 'through the roof', I was reminded odf another important aspect to the role of town and country planning. 
Until 1992 there was no such thing as an 'affordable house'. After a high court judge had agreed that the affordability of a dwelling to a local person was a material planning consideration this has become a staple in development plans and government policy - notwithstanding that affordability has been corrupted by non-planning matters on the demand side (Help to Buy, Housing Benefit, Funding for Lending, grant to RPs, the bank of mum and dad).  I would love to see this challenged to allow the court to consider whether it is the house that should be delivered at a cost related to a multiple (eg 3.5) of average local wages.  In the meantime there will the opportunity for an LPA to argue that access to affordable land is as important to access to affordable housing and require landowner developers to provide land at affordable prices.  I hope that the real farming movement can provide the 'public interest' case to justify such an intervention by the planning system.  This will be one of the points for discussion at the RTPI SE Branch meeting in the Spring.

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