• Local MP agrees to help protect agricultural land

    21st April 2013 | News | Claire
  • Natural England (NE) is currently only required to be consulted on planning applications that would result in more than 20 hectares (around 50 acres) of the highest quality crop growing land being developed.

    At Feniton Parish Council’s meeting on Friday 19 April, where Neil Parish MP was present, Cllr Roger Giles raised the issue of NE being prevented from commenting on virtually all but the biggest developments, in relation to the loss of high quality agricultural land.

    Grades 1, 2 and 3 are recorded in national government policy as “best and most versatile” agricultural land, with grade 1 being the best.  A wide range of crops and foodstuffs can be grown on such land.  There is a presumption against development on this land, in national and local planning policy.  Land of a poorer quality should be used instead where possible, policy advises.

    There is hardly any Grade 1 agricultural land in East Devon, bar some between Newton Poppleford and Budleigh Salterton and closer to Exeter.

    There are pockets of grade 2 land around Ottery and Feniton and elsewhere in the district, but most of East Devon consists of agricultural land grades 3 and 4.  So we should highly prize grade 2 land as being the best land we have.  This means that we must protect it as much as possible, particularly given the worries over future food security.

    Roger Giles suggested to Mr Parish that it one or two hectares should be the consultation threshold for NE.  Mr Parish agreed that it was “madness” not to allow Natural England to be consulted on land less than 20 hectares and promised to take it up with planning minister, Nick Boles.

    As Mr Parish was present at the meeting to talk though how he might support Feniton with obtaining its flood defence scheme faster and how best he might object to planning applications, the thorny subject of national planning policy raised its head.

    Mr Parish informed councillors that he would be prepared to “swear on a stack of bibles” that he had not had anything to do with Graham Brown or developers.

    He said that the regional spatial strategy – the previous government’s housing target (17,100 houses for East Devon) was being scrapped.

    While this is a good thing and a move I support, I couldn’t let the moment pass without raising the issue of the national planning policy framework – widely regarded to be a developers’ charter. 

    It is clear to myself and Roger Giles, that without the NPPF, the likelihood of any developer successfully building in a large-scale manner at Feniton (given that the village has already had more than its quota) would be much harder.

    I explained about the three previous appeals at Lympstone, Tipton St John and West Hill, which had been won by EDDC, before the NPPF was published.

    Mr Parish read out what he called “government rhetoric” on the NPPF, which I have read before and is VERY misleading and claims that the NPPF is all about localism.  It also states that greenbelts and areas of outstanding natural beauty are fully protected.

    (there is no greenbelt in East Devon, only around the big cities of the UK.  Two thirds of East Devon is though, designated as an area of outstanding natural beauty)

    No doubt some Sidmouth and Tipton St John residents, not to mention in other parts of East Devon, will wish to contest that sentence.

    I replied that most councils in the country were without local plans and therefore vulnerable to speculative development, thanks to the NPPF not containing protection for the general countryside.  If the NPPF was amended to contain a policy to protect the general countryside, that would of considerable help, I said.

    But Mr Parish simply responded that the NPPF was better than top-down housing targets.

    It is clear that Feniton in particular – but also the rest of East Devon – wouldn’t be in the vulnerable position it is in, if it wasn’t for the NPPF and its lack of protection for general countryside, as well as its aggressive pro-growth policies. 

    Nor would EDDC be having to desperately defend its position relating to the five year supply of land for housing as it currently is, because before the advent of the NPPF, the land supply issue was ONE (admittedly important) consideration – not the OVERRIDING planning consideration it is now.

    I suspect the only thing that will force the government to change tack on its reckless pursuit of a deregulated planning system, is a real fear that voters will desert the conservatives in their droves.

    The county council elections on Thursday 2 May will be a revealing national poll of the level of people’s support for the conservative party.