Sunday, January 7, 2018

Planners should understand that 'real' farming is different

This is a short account of the 2018 Oxford Real Farming Conference.  My offer to run a session on how the land use planning system could help in providing access to land (and housing) and in the regeneration of local food systems was not accepted so I can only report on other impressions, not all apparently relevant to land use planners.
Firstly it is important to know that there were 800 delegates and 300 unable to be offered a place! If Donald Trump’s very first concern as POTUS45 was how many people were at the inauguration, fellow politician Michael Gove MP and Sec of State for Defra should have been impressed by the youthful crowd of well connected activists packed into the Town Hall, many of whom seemed to be similarly impressed by the minister’s intentions (or rhetoric?). He had lunch with representatives from the Landworkers’ Alliance who are arranging meetings at Whitehall that will hopefully take place whoever is SoS.  It was interesting to hear the man who disparaged the views of experts, with whom he happened to disagree in the lead up the EU referendum, now rely on experts when looking at pesticides etc.  It seems that he is taking the science on climate change seriously in looking towards a zero carbon economy by 2050 or even earlier.
There was a session on  ‘Why access to land is vital for sustainable, healthy and fair food systems’ the publication of which can be found through a Web search and includes a number of ideas that can be found in my food related posts.  This coincided with The People’s Food Policy (also on the Web) that does not.  However, in future, food related posts (some as responses to Government consultations) will be copied to them.
In response to my claim that land use planners were not engaged in agroecology, access to land, forest gardens etc I was pointed to the AESOP conference at Coventry Uni in Nov 2017 on sustainable food and planning.  Hopefully that event attracted members of the planning establishment who can put ideas into practice?  
Finally, it was interesting to learn about the readily available kit(s) that could measure the nutritional density of food products and the carbon content of soils.  Readers will know that this Blog concentrates on the planning law as is and expressing opinions on how policy can be influenced and applied.  However, a case has been made for addressing the question of whether different forms of agriculture have materially different impacts ‘in the public interest’.  Claims were made that there were no statutory controls over the production of food.  There are of course regulations applying to animal welfare and seeds but nothing, it was being claimed, to distinguish between industrial scale agriculture and agroecology and ‘organics’.  Land use planning is a creature of statute and there are controls (eg conditions under s.70 and obligations s106) that could ensure that developments are carried out in the public interest which could include securing access to affordable land and buildings.  However, the law does not allow for ‘good’ agricultural practices to be distinguished from unsustainable and damaging regimes.  The ability for these distinctions to be measured (including scales of biodiversity?) is a necessary precursor to arguing for a change in the law that would allow planners to privilege the good and disadvantage the bad.

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