Friday, January 17, 2014

Neighbourhood Development Plans

At a recent meeting of the local group promoting sustainable development within a rural district the question was asked as to whether there was a simple template on which to base a neighbourhood development plan seeking to  'contribute to the achievement of sustainable development' (one of the basic conditions  that an NDP must satisfy).   Whilst  many of the following ideas can be found in previous blogs I thought that a simple list might be helpful?  It should be remembered that  such policies would be far more powerful if actually included in local plans at district or unitary level. 

Housing:  this could be dealt with by requiring all planning applications to include a Housing Assessment to show that the needs identified in surveys carried out at district or parish level are being met.  Some matters can be dealt with in the explanatory text but clear objectives  should be set out in the policies themselves.   For example, on the assumption that the needs will be predominantly for 1 or 2 bedroom units (my preference is 2 bedrooms)   providing attractive downsizing options, opportunities for new households and to generally address current levels of under-occupation,  the expected size of dwellings should be a stipulation of policy. This could be complemented with a policy saying that any larger dwellings should be designed to be easily and cheaply subdivided based on the concept of 'lifetime neighbourhoods' rather than 'lifetime homes'. Another complementary policy  would support a condition on new permissions removing the rights to extend without planning permission (to maintain affordability, energy efficiency and the balance with household size).  A policy could also support conditions on permissions (when both required and granted) to extend existing property requiring maintenance or increase in energy efficiency.   The plan should also  require  Housing Assessments  to explain how  the development would 'consume its own smoke',  an inspectors graphic interpretation of the definition of sustainable development  found in the NPPF.  in villages where there is a higher propensity for households to move within the settlement they would be justification to phase the building of new houses throughout the plan period.

Given the contribution that both self building and cohousing  would make to sustainable development, there should be policies requiring new housing development to provide for these models of development.   One method would be to require a proportion of all housing sites to provide for self building and cohousing. Anything from 5 and above could provide 20% self building or self finishing, and any site of 20 houses or more could be required to meet the demand for housing. This demand could be recorded  continuously at parish, neighbourhood or district  level through the keeping of appropriate registers.  Where no demand can be identified there would be a 'cascade'  to allow alternative provision.

Transport:   to qualify for the presumption in favour of sustainable  development it is likely that new housing will be located where there was already a good public transport service. However, it could be a requirement of any  permission for  development  in other locations to contribute  to  the enhancement of the level of service to  a level that would make the housing sustainable.    In rural and suburban areas there should also be policies to reduce car ownership and use; car clubs being one of the only known methods (although there is clearly a role for attractive footpath and cycleways). There is very little experience of developer funded car clubs  that should be designed to serve existing residential areas in the neighbourhood. Viability is likely to depend on  the scale of new housing being proposed,  and competing   uses of financial contributions being made available. However, without low carbon transport options development is unlikely to benefit from the presumption in favour of sustainable development.

Food and farming:  this has been the glaring omission from development plans that must be made good given the contribution that both food and farming make to sustainable development and carbon emissions attributable to this sector.  Suitable policies can be found in the previous blog which address the  importance of access to both affordable land and affordable housing. Local food  growing, processing and distribution has significant  implications for local employment which should, incidentally, be encouraged in other sectors.  A zone around the built-up area could be identified on the plan where small-scale farming developments would be supported.

Biodiversity:   small-scale farming is likely to be more bio diverse than industrial farming or horsiculture that it would displace. The question of biodiversity offsetting is controversial but where loss of habitat is an inescapable consequence of allowing new built development,  policy should require  a Biodiversity Assessment  that would be required to show that  there would be no net loss of biodiversity through  planting and habitat creation  on the site or elsewhere within the plan area.   The plan could also include proposals for community woodland and nature reserves that could be funded from developer contributions.

Community energy and water: there might be scope for policies requiring the provision of local energy generation.   Scepticism  in respect of solar farms could be addressed by at least requiring applicants to survey and  respond to every opportunity within the neighbourhood to install PV or thermal panels on  all existing buildings.   An Energy Assessment  could be required to explain the standards of energy efficiency being  proposed/achieved by the proposed housing and any reasons why  any other on-site energy generation was or was not being proposed. In terms of water,  the drainage of the  development site should be fully maintained through mitigating  measures (e.g.  ponds and/or SUDs). 

Comments  on this blog are welcome,  particularly on what I have left out of this note which could and should also apply to district and unitary councils.   Neighbourhood development plans that do not include these policies could and should be challenged  if not meeting the 'basic condition' of contributing to the achievement of sustainable development or taking proper account of the NPPF  that includes the “golden thread" of sustainable development and its 'Bruntland' definition.  Other official sources are the carbon budgets (produced by the Committee on Climate Change) in accordance with the Climate Change Act 2008,  and the Government's 2011 Carbon Plan.  In the case of local plans, the challenge would be on the basis that they  should be found to be 'unsound'   if sustainable  development is not treated in a way that would meet relevant parts of the the NPPF  and/or statutory targets.

Finally,   a reminder that policies should be clear in what is required of a development in order for decision makers to know whether or not an application  accords with the development plan.   The balancing of even the most draconian or prescriptive policies Through the balancing of other material considerations (such as viability) is part of the statutory decision-making process.

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.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Planning and local food

Planning (as in town and country planning) for a revolution in local agriculture
Notes from a presentation to the Real Farming Conference 
held in Oxford on 6 and 7 January 3014
This is an argument that we should be working collectively to make the planning system deliver what we (at the RFC) know to be important changes to farming that are dependent on the use and development of land – ie the job of the planning system.
The revolution does not depend on any change to the law but changes to policy and practice. There was a change in 2011 with the passing of the Localism Act that extended plan-making powers to parish councils and neighbourhood forums.  This means that there are more organisations that might be receptive to new ideas and the hundreds of very local councils with no ‘baggage’ might be more receptive than the long established planning authorities.   The revolution should encompass the production, processing and distribution of local food.   The key to the argument to plan makers and decision takers is the contribution that ‘local food’ makes to sustainable development, the “golden thread" that, according to the National Planning Policy Framework, must run through both plan making and decision taking. The fact that the food supply chain is responsible for between 30% and 50% of carbon emissions that must be reduced by 80% by 2050 should interest policy makers.
It is important to understand that the planning system has inbuilt flexibility in that material considerations, those matters that could and should be taken into account in deciding planning applications, is not a closed list. Any matter that relates to the use of land (including buildings) and is of public interest can (must) be taken into account. Until the 1990s there was no such thing as “affordable housing" recognised by the planning system. After a High Court judge supported a local planning authority in the making of a distinction between a dwelling that could be afforded by local people and general market housing that could not, the affordability of housing was recognised as a material consideration and became a main theme in policies adopted at national and local level. There would appear to be a parallel for securing affordable land and associated residential accommodation for agriculture or horticulture. In a plan led system, if a public interest case can be made out, it would be logical for these objectives to be pursued through development plans produced at parish, neighbourhood or district level. This would represent a more ordered and effective harnessing of the power of the planning system than through relying on decisions on test cases, having applications refused and considered by the High Court.
Whilst there is no legal reason why planning authorities should not start to be proactive in respect of issues relating to food from ‘plough to plate’ (the neglected country part of town and country planning), planners lack the necessary knowledge and expertise in this area and will be very slow to change without receiving substantial assistance in their understanding of the related needs in terms of access to land, housing, buildings the impacts on local transport and the potential to create jobs.  I am looking to the CRF, the Soil Assoc, the Permaculutre Assoc, the Landworkers Alliance and the ELC to do the educating of Government, local government and the planning and surveying professionals.
The potential for incorporating issues relating to food applies to both existing planning authorities and parish councils or neighbourhood forums embarking on the preparation of neighbourhood development plans. However, it would be much more effective if the required policy framework was set out in higher-level plans that cover large rural areas, including those where there is no appetite or capacity for producing neighbourhood plans. Innovating at the level of a planning authority has the very great advantage that it not only produces plans but also makes decisions on planning applications. It is easier to introduce new policy when a local plan or core strategy is under review.  But it is also possible to adopt Supplementary Planning Documents covering particular issues, so long as the policies are not inconsistent with the adopted development plans.  (I will be attending to the drafting of policies suitable for development plans or SPD on the DanthePlan blog where the issues are already being discussed.
It may be that change is more likely to be instigated  by one or more parish councils out of concern about the way in which the land around their village is being used and how to realise its potential to enhance local food production.  It is an important part of the localism agenda that, as neighbourhood development plans must comply with policies at higher levels (district, national and European), those responsible for planning at high levels can learn from the results emerging from neighbourhood planning  in their respective districts.  In fact the planning system is a quite good at disseminating information through formal (ie appeal decisions, professional institutes) and more informal (conferences and trade magazines/journals) channels.
Given that ‘local food’ epitomises much of what is said in the National Planning Policy Framework about sustainability, compliance with the Framework  (that is a basic condition to be met by all neighbourhood plans) should not be a problem. This path would be made easier by relying on some of the growing evidence relating to the importance of local food. Perhaps the most important discussion to be had is how proposals that support the production, processing and distribution of food benefit from the “presumption in favour of sustainable development”.  
The question was asked about what could or should be the main thread that could bring together the many strands of the Conference.  I think that the concept with the greatest potential is “carbon”.  With the food supply chain responsible for between 30% and 50% carbon emissions it is difficult to see how any development plan that is statutorily required to deal with the use and development of land could possibly be contribution go the achievement of sustainable development without a chapter on food and farming and policies consistent with the (at least) the carbon emission reduction target of 80% by 2050 and the interim Carbon Budgets.
Support for these new rural enterprises should also be the subject of employment policies in the local plan or neighbourhood plan with associated local job (and training) opportunities  and the possibility of jobs in local food processing and distribution.  Enhancing and maintaining biodiversity and reducing travel and transport are other important elements  to be explained in order to qualify for the presumption in favour of sustainable development.
Planning for the revolution in local food is probably predicated on the fact that new residential development in villages is likely to be the most effective driver of change. The purpose of all planning policy should be to increase the sustainability of the village (or town) and the new local food policies would aim to increase the availability of local food supplies (the most common reason given by people surveyed by the Soil Association in respect of Community Supported Agriculture),  allow more people to live and work locally, reduce transport and, in the case of CSA, increase community involvement.
The prospect for planning for a revolution in local food based on new policy frameworks will not mean that applications will not continue for setting up new agricultural/horticultural enterprises; ie the buildings and dwellings.  However, for the scale of change to become a meaningful (particularly on the fringes of towns and villages) it is fair to assume that the necessary land and housing will have to be leveraged and enabled by the profits from new housing. Section 106 has been one of the most contentious parts of the planning system, many leading court cases the result of litigation led by Tesco.  Fitting ‘local food’ into planning obligations might not be easy but planning develops by trial and error.  S106 of the Town and Country Planning Act can be seen as the mechanism for securing community benefits (not normally or willingly proposed by developers).  As well as the commonplace enhancements to village halls, playgrounds and allotments (which can, by law, be up to 2 acres), there is no reason why smallholdings should not be included in this list. However, it will be very difficult to secure these benefits unless these are listed and explained/justified in the development plans (local and/or neighbourhood plan), to which the profits from new residential development should be required to contribute in order to make both the new housing itself and the village location more sustainable.  It will also be important to explain why such benefits relate to the development (e.g. compensation for the taking of greenfield/agricultural land for housing development and in terms of higher productivity of smallholdings compared with agriculture or horsiculture) as well as increasing the sustainability of the location for new housing/population).
Just as the affordability of housing has become a mainstream part of planning decisions and policy, there appears to be a relevant precedent for  requiring contributions towards the provision of land for smallholdings. In Surrey a number of councils collect s106 contributions to green infrastructure (Suitable Alternative Natural GreenSpace –SANG) to meet the increased recreational needs associated with new housing developments. The contributions are set between £2500 and £3000 per dwelling.  Once the ‘need’ for local food is established, financial contributions, £1000 per house could purchase the equivalent of the tenth of an acre to produce most fruit, vegetable and eggs/chicken meat.  Alternatively land for horticultural purposes could  be made available by the developer.
Another housing policy could require one dwelling or more of those being proposed, to be made subject to an agricultural occupancy condition. In itself, the “ag tag" would limit the price of such a dwelling and could reasonably be accepted as part of the affordable housing requirement (often about 40% of the total). In many cases a development of a scale appropriate to the village (say 20 houses) will occupy only part of the land owned by the applicant. It should, therefore, be possible to require some or all of the residual or remaining land to be sold or leased with the tied dwelling(s). To counter any argument that S106 is not designed to control the sale or lease of land, the residential smallholding might have to be proposed as an integral part of the application for residential development. Conditions and/or obligations can then control the establishment of the smallholding and also the future use of that land. It might be necessary for the terms of a lease to secure these benefits  (possibly enforced through the PC or ELC).
It might serve to reinforce the effectiveness of this policy if the development plan explained that, by using the area around the settlement for small-scale agricultural enterprises there should be less need for these to be established in isolated locations in the open countryside. Food enterprises on the edge of villages would enable those involved and their families to be part of a village.  It will also enable village residents to be involved in the agricultural enterprise.
Government reacted to failings in the use of s106 by introducing the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) that will gradually supersede the arrangements currently available under section 106.  On-site benefits might still be secured through s106 but the payment of CIL might reduce what a developer would be willing or able to contribute in terms of land. Although local authorities (county councils)  have powers to acquire land for smallholding, this can involve  compulsory purchase which is not seen as a popular way of managing land use. In an area where CIL is introduced it would be necessary to include ‘local food’ as part of the schedules of “infrastructure" to which CIL receipts could be put. (see the reference to Green Infrastructure  and SANG land above).
In the village where I live, 200 out of 1900 adults responding to the village survey said that they, “…would be interested in growing food locally on a small holding (i.e. land larger than an allotment)”.  Assuming that there is the same level of demand of about 10% of the population in other towns and villages, there would seem to be a compelling case for planners to become involved.  So, engage with the planners (professionals and politicians) at all levels and in both plan-making and decision-taking.  Inform them of the public interest case in regenerating ‘local food’.  Explain that affordable land and housing epitomizes ‘sustainable development and that planning controls are real and perceived barriers to people being able to realize these ambitions. Without food and farming policies neighbourhood plans should net be found to satisfy the basic condition of contributing to the achievement of sustainable development and local plans should not meet the test of “soundness”.
These comments and more about using the planning system for sustainable development particularly in housing provision (mostly co-housing and self building) at