Saving our best soils for growing food

On my doorstep in Mickleover, Derby, developers have submitted an outline planning application for 300+ new homes on Hackwood Farm.  This area is not in Derby’s Preferred Growth Strategy and at least 70 local residents have submitted written objections to the plans.

View of Hackwood Farm
Hackwood Farm

Safeguard our Soils, Mr. Pickles!
Because of the deliberate weakening of local planning control by the Coalition Government, greenfield sites all over the country are now at risk from private development.  Many, possibly most, of these sites at risk are on good agricultural land. In response to this, Carole Shorney, who is Secretary of SE Essex Organic Gardeners launched a petition, “Safeguard our Soils, Mr. Pickles!” following advice from the CPRE and Soil Association, the full text of which is below.

The following is taken from information given by Carol.  She states that this petition is asking Mr Eric Pickles MP, the Secretary of State for Communities and LoSave our soilscal Government, to include a specific direction in the NPPF to plan positively for the future use of Best and Most Versatile agricultural land (BMV) for benefits beyond food production. Areas covered should include increased biodiversity and an increased level of resilience for agriculture in order to maximise UK production sustainably. As  things stand, this valuable, productive land has very little protection against development.

We must accept that Britain cannot go on relying on world markets for our food. Global demand is rising, prices are rising and with the effects of climate change becoming apparent, harvests are declining.  Britain therefore needs a stable, secure food supply, with short distance from field to plate.  Over the next 50 years, food and farming face the stark challenge of providing better nutrition for more people in spite of rapid environmental change, while cutting our diet’s impact on natural resources, ecosystems and the climate. This calls for changes in our eating habits, reductions in food waste and improvements in food production. We want to make sure organic and other agro ecological approaches are at the heart of efforts to achieve this.  We must therefore protect our best agricultural land.

It used to be the case in England that the grade of agricultural land was a prime consideration for planners and local authorities in allocating sites for development.  However, changes to planning policy in the late 1980’s downgraded the importance of agricultural land classifications in planning, in response to the more globalised market for food that had developed.  This level of attention to quality of land was no longer needed.  The DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) report demonstrates that before the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), Local Planning Authorities didn’t have the tools they needed to protect our best agricultural land from development – and the NPPF has done nothing to improve planning policy to address this.

As Green Party supporters, we need to be aware of the threat to good agricultural land in Derbyshire, particularly close to main centers of population, and campaign to oppose major development. This is another example of how short term private gain is being put ahead of the long term interests of the rest of society and future generations. We need change before any more agricultural land is offered to/bought up by developers.

Jean Macdonald

Don’t forget to sign the petition

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