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16/09/2014

Putting the 'country' back into town planning

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Genuinely sustainable development is underpinned by local food production, says Daniel Scharf - and it's the job of planners to bring that about

Daniel ScharfGiven the public interest being shown in ‘local food’, now is the time to do a bit of country planning. A need has been identified for about a million new farmers to make good the retirement of existing farmers and to increase the labour content of sustainable food production.
 
The estimates of the global carbon footprint attributed to the food supply chain from ‘plough to plate’ (between 30 per cent and 50 per cent) should be justification for adopting food and farming policies without which no development plan could reasonably claim to meet the statutory need to contribute to sustainable development.
 
With carbon reductions come job creation, soil health and increased biodiversity, such that promotion of local food should be seen as an indispensible strand of both the NPPF’s golden thread and the presumption in favour of sustainable development.

"If the development of 'local food' is in the public interest, it is the job of planners to bring it about"

‘Local food’ implies a reconnection between the use of land around towns and villages with the local population. Development policies should enable new smallholdings to be established through securing suitable and affordable land and associated housing, as well as supporting proposals for food processing and distribution. The planning system only embraced the idea of affordable housing in the 1990s, when a judge found affordability to be a legitimate consideration. If the development of ‘local food’ is in the public interest, then it is the job of planners to learn how to bring it about. Plans could designate land around settlements as being suitable for crops, woodland, forest gardens and orchards. The chances to develop local food production, processing and distribution are most likely to arise through planning obligations securing suitable land, housing and financial contributions on the back of new housing.
 
The work that must be done to formulate policies acceptable to local and neighbourhood planning authorities and effective in securing affordable land and housing is justified by the large number of people who want to be involved in producing local food. But this important new direction for the planning system should not be an alternative to, or at the expense of, constructive community engagement with farmers and landowners who might also see the advantages of embracing village farms, permaculture, agro-ecology and community-supported agriculture. It is encouraging to see the desirability of supporting more local food production in the recent RTPI publication Planning Horizons no.2 Future-Proofing Society.
 
Daniel Scharf is a planning adviser at Blake Morgan
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Living in the Gwarimpa 2 District of Abuja (Nigeria), i've consistently reflected on the need for the natural drainage to be designated for Urban Agriculture, for the cultivation of fruits and vegetables. Currently delivered fresh, it adds to the provision of healthier crops, for the consumption of the Residents. In this consideration, it is fundamental that designated agro-plots should go to the Locals. The highlighted bio-ecological advantages, will combine with Equity, to provide a sustainable spatial planning Framework for the District. Similar efforts in every District of the City, will add tremendous value to sustainable development in Abuja.

As Chair of the North Devon Coast AONB Partnership and the Northern Devon Fisheries Local Action Group I whole endorse this view. Sustainable local food production and the farming and fishing operations that go towards providing them are a focus for both of these partnerships in this area. We work with local producers, retailers, chefs and restaurateurs, as well as local authorities and national agencies to bring this about. I'm happy to share our experiences with anyone who is interested.

I was delighted to read Daniel's article. We (as planners)need to ensure that the planning policies support a sustainable living countryside, reconnecting communities with food production and the management of other natural resources. There are examples of innovative practices and schemes doing just that here in the SW, albeit there is still much to do.

as a consultant working in West Yorkshire, I see the Councils' resistance to approve anything (even a conversion) that might be beyond a mile from a bus route or down a narrow track as being "unsustainable", I wonder how on earth any young farmer/food entrepreneur is ever going to be able to make a start. Current interpretation of sustainability relies mainly on the use of the private car with no balance of the use of old buildings or the value of a sustainable lifestyle. How can we get some support for this approach?

I also endorse the views expressed in this article. Unfortunately planning the countryside is in competition with the demands of towns and cities. They compete for land, that finite resource and put farming under pressure especially in the grey belts around cities which need to be redeveloped as true 'green belts' and made mandatory for every settlement

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