Saturday, May 24, 2014

All Party Parliamentary Group on agro - ecology

I was invited to describe to the APPG the role of the planning system in increasing the opportunities to provide local food. It seems that Bristol are making great strides not necessarily with the planners' help. I started by posing the question to me as much as to the audience of about 40 people whether, if I had been sick, there was another planner who would have been able and willing to take my place? I am not aware of another planner who has written on the subject (there have of course been lay people, campaigners and academics engaged in this topic) or attended and spoken at conferences when local food has been discussed. Not for the first time the next question is whether it is me who is mad or the rest of 'them' in this case the 24,999 member of my profession. The last time I raised the question of my sanity was when speaking at New Palace Yard outside the Houses of Parliament when describing the merits and necessity of reducing the national speed limit to 55mph (see GreenSpeed web site In that case the 'them' were the Members of the Commons preparing for the Copenhagen COP). Of course we are still waiting for the speed limit to be reduced but I live in hope, hanging on to my sanity. So back to food. This has been discussed in previous Blogs but it bears repeating that new housing developments around the edge of towns and villages could quite quickly be transformed into smallholding zones by requiring surplus land and some of the (affordable) housing to be made into a viable village farm. This should be done in the name of 'sustainable development' for which there is a presumption in the NPPF. With the global food supply being responsible for between 30% and 50% of carbon emissions, the opportunity to provide access to affordable land and housing to produce food (inc processing and distribution) is a legitimate use of planning control and should become a main thread in development plans to be entwined with the golden thread of sustainable development in the Framework. It also bears repeating that 200 out of the 2000 adults in my village said yes asked by the neighbourhood planners whether they wanted to be involved in smallholding ie more than an allotment. The May 2014 edition of Town and Country Planning from the TCPA has a report on 'agriburbs' in the USA. It is galling to read about progress being made on this important subject of local food in other countries. Although the TCPA has included other articles on this theme in its magazine, and has reminded us that local farming and food was part of the Garden City vision that was and remains its raison d'etre, I have not yet seen the TCPA taking up the agro-ecology or smallholding cause outside the campaign for new settlements. There was talk at the APPG about asking questions of ministers (eg Defra,DCLG and BIS - that stands for Business, Innovation and Skills - all of which are or should be implicated in the renaissance of enlightened farming). So we all have a job to do of contacting our own Member of Parliament and asking what is being done to increase the opportunities for people to access affordable housing and land. I had spent the first 13 years of my planning career in local government relaxing agricultural occupancy conditions on housing not needed for that purpose. Now is the time to re-build that housing stock. On the train home it occurred to me that the first house I owned had been built in about 1925 under an Act designed to increase the supply of housing for farm workers (terraces of four houses/cottages on the edges of villages or in the open countryside) can be seen across the Midlands if not elsewhere. Apparently in the area of North Berkshire there were no farm workers who could afford the two and six (is that 25p?) rent so the houses were taken over by the Rural District Council from which my predecessor bought the cottage that was very well made and had a whacking great garden. When working locally, the opportunities are in neighbourhood planning but possibly more influence would be through the local plan covering a whole district. The group working on community supported agriculture in Farnham is a leading light in this respect and has produced a draft Supplementary Planning Document that if adopted by the LPA would carry very significant weight in decision-making. Farnham boasts about its heritage as a 'market town' but, without an effective local food policy, this is about architectural history rather than everyday living and sustainable development. Planning Policy document

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