Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Food and Planning

On 30 April the local branch of the Royal Town Planning Institute held a seminar on 'Food and Planning' and I gave a planner's response to the public interest case (presented by Colin Tudge and Richard Nunes). I am afraid that the length of this paper breaches all rules for Blogs but I feel that there is an important message that the NPPF might actually be fit for many purposes and what really matters is the lead being given by the person sitting in the position of the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.  Mr Pickles with his very strange and conflicted views on localism and sustainable development may be replaced after the general election on 7 May - but the level of ignorance of planning in Government does not give much hope for the future.  Happy reading...
Food and Planning Seminar 30 May 2015
organised by Royal Town Planning Institute SE Branch

Could the existing framework of law and policy legitimately support local food systems? And, If not, what changes would be reasonably necessary?

  1. Since the 1947 Act, whatever public interest depends on the use and development of land and buildings can be delivered by the planning system.

  1. Example: There was no difference recognised by the planning system between a dwelling that was affordable to local people and one that was not until a High Court judge found that a refusal of planning permission by a local authority based on that contention was within the powers of the 1947 Act.   It would seem to follow that If it can be shown to be in the public interest to facilitate access to affordable land and associated housing to support the growth of local food systems ie production, processing and distribution, the planning system could  and should deliver.

I then considered various elements of the policy framework within which planning decisions are taken and that could be relied on by decision-makers.

  1. National Planning Policy Framework

The following extracts show that the NPPF is not hostile to and in many ways could be reasonably interpreted to support the development of local food systems.

Achieving sustainable development
The NPPF cites the UN definition about not disadvantaging future generations that has been interpreted by an appeal inspector (  Appeal Decision APP/N2345/A/12/2169598) as ‘consuming its own smoke’. A helpful judgement has found that, “the presumption cannot apply to un-sustainable development and that somewhere in the process must be an assessment of sustainability ..." Dartford BC v SSCLG [2014] EWHC 2636 (Admin.).

“Core Planning Principles   - 17…proactively drive and support sustainable economic development to deliver the homes, business and industrial units, infrastructure and thriving local places that the country needs. Every effort should be made objectively to identify and then meet the housing, business and other development needs of an area, and respond positively to wider opportunities for growth. Plans should take account of market signals, such as land prices and housing affordability, and set out a clear strategy for allocating sufficient land which is suitable for development in their area, taking account of the needs of the residential and business communities;”

Whilst this might not have been drafted with small scale agricultural enterprises in mind, if these are needed then the planning system should be delivering both suitable and affordable land and housing

“- take account of the different roles and character of different areas,
promoting the vitality of our main urban areas, protecting the Green Belts
around them, recognising the intrinsic character and beauty of the
countryside and supporting thriving rural communities within it;”

It would be reasonable to regard a thriving agricultural industry to be fundamental to thriving rural communities

“- take account of and support local strategies to improve health, social and cultural wellbeing for all, and deliver sufficient community and cultural facilities and services to meet local needs.”

Local food would appear to be suited to meet all these local needs.

Supporting a prosperous rural economy
“28. Planning policies should support economic growth in rural areas in order to create jobs and prosperity by taking a positive approach to sustainable new development. To promote a strong rural economy, local and neighbourhood plans should:
● support the sustainable growth and expansion of all types of business and enterprise in rural areas, both through conversion of existing buildings and well designed new buildings;
● promote the development and diversification of agricultural and other land-based rural businesses;
● support sustainable rural tourism and leisure developments that benefit
businesses in rural areas, communities and visitors, and which respect the character of the countryside. This should include supporting the provision and expansion of tourist and visitor facilities in appropriate locations where identified needs are not met by existing facilities in rural service centres; and
● promote the retention and development of local services and community
facilities in villages, such as local shops, meeting places, ...”

No stretch of the imagination is required to read this advice as official/Government encouragement to the growing, processing and distribution of local food.

“52. The supply of new homes can sometimes be best achieved through planning for larger scale development, such as new settlements or extensions to existing villages and towns that follow the principles of Garden Cities. (see later comment).

Working with the support of their communities, local planning authorities should consider whether such opportunities provide the best way of achieving sustainable development. In doing so, they should consider whether it is appropriate to establish Green Belt around or adjoining any such new development.”

There is a lively debate about the future of the Green Belt and small scale agriculture aimed at serving the enclosed urban area offers an attractive alternative to both camps; those who would like to see the GB kept free from development and those who would like to see it put to productive use –ie horticulture could be preferred to horsiculture that has become the predominant use, even if this implies a limited level of associated residential development.

Climate Change
“93 Planning plays a key role in helping shape places to secure radical reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, minimising vulnerability and providing resilience to the impacts of climate change…”

There is a debate about the scale of greenhouse gases that can be attributed to agriculture (UNCTAD estimate of about 50% of global emissions down to about 13% estimate of the Committee on Climate Change from UK agriculture).  It is important to collect the evidence to show that local agricultural systems can contribute to the reduction in GHG emissions.

“95. To support the move to a low carbon future, local planning authorities
● plan for new development in locations and ways which reduce greenhouse gas emissions;”

Opportunities for local food growing should be planned for all localities.

Conserving and enhancing the natural environment
“109 minimising impacts on biodiversity and providing net gains in biodiversity where possible, contributing to the Government’s commitment to halt the overall decline in biodiversity, including by establishing coherent ecological networks that are more resilient to current and future pressures;”

The case can be made that (by definition) agro-ecology enriches bio-diversity both above and, importantly, below ground (see paper presented by Colin Tudge).  The NPPF could be seen to miss the connection between food growing and ‘natural environment’ which is currently seen simply about bio-diversity, geo-diversity and landscape.

Land quality
“112. Local planning authorities should take into account the economic and other benefits of the best and most versatile agricultural land BMV). Where significant development of agricultural land is demonstrated to be necessary, local planning authorities should seek to use areas of poorer quality land in preference to that of a higher quality.”

This is the vestige of the concern that had been expressed about preserving the food growing capacity of the UK.  Sometimes the protection of BMV is decisive in planning decisions and sometimes not. Generally the smaller the holding the greater reliance on land quality and, If the need for small scale agriculture can be demonstrated, then so would be the need for the planning system to protect and use the best land for this purpose.

Using proportionate evidence in plan-making in terms of ‘business’
“160. Local planning authorities should have a clear understanding of business needs within the economic markets operating in and across their area. To achieve this, they should:
● work together with county and neighbouring authorities and with Local
Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) to prepare and maintain a robust evidence base to understand both existing business needs and likely changes in the market;
● work closely with the business community to understand their changing
needs and identify and address barriers to investment, including a lack of
housing, infrastructure or viability.”

Notwithstanding the important benefits derived from urban food growing up to and including 10 pole allotments, the scale of change envisaged by Colin Tudge is very much at a business level and scale where LEPs should be interested.  However, planning authorities are likely to need help in assembling the evidence to support the radical policies which will be required to facilitate the shift to ‘real farming’.

“161. Local planning authorities should use this evidence base to assess:
● the needs for land or floorspace for economic development, including
both the quantitative and qualitative needs for all foreseeable types of
economic activity over the plan period, including for retail and leisure
● the existing and future supply of land available for economic developmentand its sufficiency and suitability to meet the identified needs. Reviews of land available for economic development should be undertaken at the same time as, or combined with, Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessments and should include a reappraisal of the suitability of previously allocated land;”

Whilst this might have been intended to apply to the change of employment land to residential, it could equally apply to identifying the most suitable land for ‘real farming’ which could then be a constraint in the identification of land suitable for housing (ie the SHLAA).

● the needs of the food production industry and any barriers to investment that planning can resolve.(my emphasis)

Colin Tudge and Richard Nunes explained in different ways the need for and benefits deriving from local food systems and pointed to some of the barriers (eg affordable land and associated housing).  Unless I am wrong about the analogy of planning delivering affordable housing in the public interest and the  relevance of other parts of the NPPF that could be applied in support of local food processing and distribution, then the Framework should not be regarded as preventing the regeneration of local food systems.

  1. Planning Practice Guidance
Support can be found in the NPPG at:
“Health and Wellbeing para 2  •opportunities for healthy lifestyles have been considered (e.g. planning for an environment that supports people of all ages in making healthy choices, helps to promote active travel and physical activity, and promotes access to healthier food, high quality open spaces and opportunities for play, sport and recreation);” and,
“Para 5 •Active healthy lifestyles that are made easy through the pattern of development, good urban design, good access to local services and facilities; green open space and safe places for active play and food growing, and is accessible by walking and cycling and public transport.”
This guidance can be cited in support of the above policy advice in the NPPF.
The only guidance on “agriculture”  relates to the unhelpful relaxation to regulations allowing  “changes of use of agricultural buildings (eg schools and dwellings)”

  1. Local Plans
Back to the NPPF that says, “99. Local Plans should take account of climate change over the longer term, including factors such as flood risk, coastal change, water supply and changes to biodiversity and landscape. New development should be planned to avoid increased vulnerability to the range of impacts arising from climate change. When new development is brought forward in areas which are vulnerable, care should be taken to ensure that risks can be managed through suitable adaptation measures, including through the planning of green infrastructure.”

Colin Tudge’s presentation identified the diversity and flexibility that could make ‘real’ or ‘enlightened’ farming  better suited to the green infrastructure reducing vulnerability to climate change.

“150. Local Plans are the key to delivering sustainable development that reflects the vision and aspirations of local communities.
151. Local Plans must be prepared with the objective of contributing to the
achievement of sustainable development. To this end, they should be
consistent with the principles and policies set out in this Framework,
including the presumption in favour of sustainable development.
152. Local planning authorities should seek opportunities to achieve each of the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development, and net gains across all three.”

There should be no need or excuse for trade-offs between the three limbs of sustainable development and agro-ecology epitomises how multiple  social, economic and environmental gains can be achieved.

8.   Neighbourhood   Development Plans
There is no reason why advice on local plans should not also apply to NDPs – and vice versa.

In my village the NDP survey showed 200 out of 2000 adults (on 64% return) desired to be involved in smallholding ie more than an allotment.  The NDP followed advice from the district council not to translate this ‘public interest’ into development plan policy.   This is an example of a failure of localism and a demonstration of how much both planning authorities and neighbourhood forums/parish councils have to learn

  1. Green Belts
Although agriculture and forestry are ‘appropriate uses’ it is not a main purpose of Green Pelt policy to actively support these uses. Models of village farms or market gardens encouraged by the planning system (ie providing affordable housing) could be an alternative to new inappropriate development. Such dwellings should be regarded as appropriate as being  ‘buildings for agriculture and forestry’.(NPPF amendment required).  Similarly the policies in National Parks and AONBs should acknowledge the contribution that could be made by ‘agro-ecology.  The regulations applying to National Parks include the advancement of social and economic objectives.

  1. Garden Cities   
Whilst new garden cities might not be at a scale that will solve the housing or agricultural crises, they do seem to have cross party support and the door should be pushed open, especially because of the advice at para 52 of the NPPF.  There is a real opportunity for the campaign for real farming to capitalize on the inclusion of ‘market garden’ zones in Ebenezer Howard’s idealised diagram (the ‘homes for inebriates’ might be suitable for plannerd drowning their sorrows?).  Agro-ecology and community supported agriculture would also fit into Howard’s three magnets by providing, “Fields and farms of easy access, enterprise and low prices… [and]…Plenty to do. “
Sustain (please Google and support) describe local food systems as ‘infrastructure’. Just as real farming should be regarded as an integral part of the agricultural industry and rural economy (Colin Tudge confirmed that the Real Farming conference now attracts more delegates than the Oxford Farming Conference) planners might find it easier  to adjust to something falling within a familiar category.  If Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) could be invested in local food systems this could be a game changer (but change to regulations and local CIL schedules required.


1.    NPPF – Support for ‘food production’ should be expanded beyond the business section of plan-making; given a chapter of its own, or added to landscape, green belt, bio-diversity and health and well-being sections.  However, this does not mean that the NPPF in its existing form is not already fit for the purpose of supporting the growth of real farming in both plan-making and decision-taking.  The definition of ‘affordable housing’ in the Glossary should include those dwellings approved with an ‘agricultural occupancy condition, removing this as an obstacle for developers concerned about viability.

2.         Local Plans  & Sustainability Appraisals – should have policies supporting agro-ecology in particular requiring the provision of affordable housing (with ag tags) and affordable land (secured through s106 planning obligations). These should be reserved out of all new developments on the fringe of towns and villages.  Policies should indicate that the urban fringe is the appropriate location for such developments and could

3.         NDPs – market gardening zones and village farm allocations should be made if not already provided for in local plans under NPPF 160/161. There should be a campaign for Community Right to Grow Orders as counterparts to Community Right to Build Orders.

4.         Green Belts (and Nat Parks/AONBs) – promote agriculture including horticulture – including provision of affordable housing associated with affordable land.

5.         Garden Cities (and large scale housing developments along the garden city model, should all include market garden zones and require engage with local examples of community supported agriculture.

6.         Community Infrastructure Levy  schedules should include local food systems.

7.         Regional food systems should be the focus of attention that would imply a ‘duty to cooperate’ between urban and rural planning authorities (as they are applies to housing land supply).  It would also be helpful to emphasise that the ‘real farming’ must be encouraged to make contributions to the economy at an industrial scale.

8.         Decisions must by law all refer to the ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’.  There is sufficient other policy advice and guidance in the NPPF and NPPG to support proposals for agro-ecological developments.  There is a need for those with knowledge and experience of agro-ecology and real and/enlightened farming to support/propose policies at national and local level as well as backing individual decisions.  Given the discretion available to decision-makers; officers, committees, inspectors and the Sec of State (within the bounds of reasonableness), it is important to  bring the considerations material to the promotion of agro-ecology to the fore.

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