Time running out to tell Government about true sustainable development

Simon Fairlie
Monday, 14th February 2011

Help tell the Government that we need the conditions for true sustainable development in the countryside...

The Government is consulting on a new national planning framework for England until 28th February. All the planning policy statements, such as PPS7 on the Countryside and PPS1a on Climate Change are likely to be replaced by one document. The Government is allegedly looking to reduce several hundred pages of guidance into ten or twenty pages.

This is really important for people involved in low impact development, permaculture projects, ecovillages etc. It is potentially a threat as policies that have enabled projects to get planning permission in the past may be removed. However, it is also an important opportunity to get supportive policies added at the national level.

Land reform campaign group Chapter 7 has been working with the Permaculture Association to identify planning policies that we'd like to see retained or added. Here in bullet point form are the main points we have identified:

  • A definition of "Sustainable Development" in the framework that is robust and stringent, and emphasises ecologically sustainable development, not just sustainable economic development.
  • Retention of a policy to allow agricultural, forestry and other rural workers to build homes in the open countryside. This is currently contained in Annex A of PPS7 (Planning Policy Statement 7).
  • Introduction of a national policy for Low Impact Development, similar to the "One Planet Development" policy contained in TAN6 (Technical Advice Note 6) in Wales.
  • Introduction of policies that are supportive of self-builders, particularly where homes are ecologically sustainable and/or affordable.
  • We would like to see the encouragement of local food production and forestry enterprises on green belt land.
  • Introduction of policies that provide for people who wish to have part-time access to agricultural land on the edge of existing settlements.
  • Introduction of policies that make it easier for those who choose to live in a mobile home, cabin or other low impact dwelling to do so — whether or not they are classed as gypsies or travellers.

We need to demonstrate to the Government that there is a demand for these kinds of development. If you agree with some or all of these points please write a submission by the 28th February - in your own words - and send it to:

[email protected]


Alan Scott
National Planning Policy Framework
Department for Communities and Local Government
Zone 1/H6
Eland House
London SW1E 5DU

Below is Chapter 7's draft submission which fleshes out some of these points in greater detail.


Sustainable Development

We welcome the proposal in the Green Paper Open Source Planning to "establish a presumption in favour of sustainable development". This will require national planning guidance to provide a robust definition of what "sustainable development" constitutes. We submit that any definition should include the following areas:

  • minimization of resource use (as defined for example by 'ecological footprints')
  • climate change and carbon emissions
  • minimization of energy use, especially fossil fuels
  • minimization of transport demand and car use 'minimization of waste
  • enhancement of biodiversity
  • conservation and enhancement of natural resources such as water, soil quality, woodland etc.
  • adequate access to land, resources and facilities for all households within a given community.

Sustainable Rural Development

Rural development has been hampered in recent years by restrictive locational policies that have tended to equate sustainability with location on the edge of settlements and required development in the open countryside to be "strictly controlled". While Chapter 7 agrees that development in the open countryside needs strict control, too often this has been interpreted to mean "no development at all". There are often obvious transport advantages in siting developments on the edge of settlements, but sometimes, particularly in the case of land-based enterprises, these can be outweighed by other sustainable advantages, such as more effective land management, the opportunity to use natural sources of energy, restoration of moribund rural economies and agro-ecologies, the avoidance of "reverse commuting" from town residence to rural employment etc.

We would therefore support a presumption in favour of sustainable development in the open countryside, provided that the definition of sustainability is stringent, and that its application is strictly controlled. We believe there is a case for expanding the "country house" policy, currently found in paragraph 11 of PPS 7 to include, not merely buildings exhibiting "the highest standards of contemporary architecture" (which anyway is highly subjective) but those embodying the highest standards of rural sustainabi!ity, as defined in national policy guidance.

We also suggest that framers of the new policy guidance should look at the Welsh "One Planet Development" policy in section 4.15 of Technical Advice Note 6 (the Welsh equivalent of PPS7). Whilst we would not advocate that this should be copied word for word, and accept that it is too detailed for the kind of policies envisaged in the new national planning guidance, we submit that something along these lines should be introduced into English policy guidance.

Agricultural Tied Dwellings

We are concerned that the provision for agricultural tied dwellings should not be swept aside in the new reforms. Current agricultural prices on the one hand, and rural house prices on the other are respectively so low and so high that farmers and horticulturalists cannot possibly pay off the cost of a rural dwelling in the open market through a normal agricultural enterprise.

It is therefore vital that some sort of exceptions policy should remain so that farmers, and particularly new entrants into farming, can live close to their enterprise. However the agricultural tied dwelling system has been open to abuse, from people posing as agriculturalists and then abandoning the enterprise that justified the dwelling and getting the agricultural tie removed. This in turn has meant that planning officers are understandably resistant to applications for agricultural dwellings, and bona fide farmers often find it extraordinarily difficult to obtain permission.

The main reason for this is the weakness of the standard agricultural tie, which does not tie the dwelling to the enterprise, even though it is the proposed enterprise which has to justify the dwelling. The moment permanent planning permission is acquired, the applicant can, and sometimes does, sell the dwelling off separate from the land which justified the permission.

This problem could be rectified by encouraging local authorities to impose conditions that tie the dwelling to the land or the enterprise which justified it. We also suggest that England adopt the occupancy condition now used in Wales, whereby any tied dwelling which is no longer suitable for agricultural or another rural industry, should not be released onto the open market, but should becoe prioritized for affordable housing (T AN6 4.13)

Self Built Homes

Chapter 7 was very heartened to see support for self-built homes in Open Source Planning, and we hope to find this reflected in policy guidance. Self build provides the opportunity for some low income people to house themselves at little or no expense to the taxpayer and it is shameful that it has been given so little support in planning guidance over the last fifteen years. It is particularly helpful for young people in villages and rural situations who face very high house prices, but often have good access to land and neighbours with the necessary machinery and manual skills.

However the problem has been finding land with permission at an affordable price. Even when land is potentially available the rural exception policy is of no use to an individual because it does not accommodate one-off developments (although the former South Shropshire District Council found a way of allowing one-off dwellings under the rural exceptions site policy). We therefore advocate:

(a) that local authorities should be encouraged to provide mechanisms enabling one-off self-builders to construct affordable housing, with legal agreements ensuring that it remains affordable over subsequent changes of ownership and occupation;
and (b) that potential owner/occupier/self-builders requiring one-off affordable housing should be deemed to constitute a "need" irrespective of whether any local housing survey has been carried out.

We would also support a shift away from the allocation of a restricted number of sites for housing in and around villages (which causes land scarcity and hence inflated land values) and towards criteria-based policies which allow for highly sustainable affordable housing on any site within a prescribed wider area (for example, contiguous with the settlement).

Affordable Housing

The definition of affordable housing in PPS3 at the moment restricts the use of the term solely to housing for local people. This discriminates against people who happen to have no historical allegiance to any particular location. It is right that local people should have priority over incomers as regards access to a limited supply of affordable housing. But people who have not been resident in one location for the required amount of time still have need of housing, and if they are on a low income they will need affordable housing, and should not be defined out of eligibility.

Rural Housing

Since its founding in 1999 Chapter 7 has experienced rising demand for houses in rural locations from people who want to "downsize" and establish a closer connection with the natural and agricultural world, without necessarily undertaking a full time profession in agriculture (the boom in allotments and local food growing is part of the same trend).

To date the needs of these people have not been catered for by the planning system, and some have opted to buy bareland in the open countryside and try and find a way around the planning system (for example by pretending to be full time agriculturalists, or by trying to obtain a certificate of lawful use through the four year or ten year rule). This has undermined the credibility of the planning syste, and made planning authorities unduly suspicious of bona fide farmers and horticulturalists.

We believe it is the function of the planning system to meet people's needs in a way that does not damage, and preferably enhances, the local and wider environment. We therefore urge that there should be provision for these needs, which, with the application of sensible policies, can be accommodated sustainably on the edge of villages.

We view that Community Land Trusts offer an appropriate vehicle for providing such housing. We also consider that where access to land is required, this is better achieved by providing collective access to a co-operatively owned area of agricultural land, rather than providing houses with large individual plots or paddocks. Individual plots could easily revert to domestic use, or they might become neglected, and they would lead to very low density development that would be unhelpful on the edge of an existing settlement, and unsustainable on a wider scale.

Green Belt

We are pleased that Open Source Planning, states that Green Belts will continue to be protected. These areas, close to conurbations are ideal for providers of local foods, and woodland products, and such enterprises would be invaluable fir keeping urban schoolchildren in contact with the source of their sustenance. Unfortunately greenbelt land is mostly inaccessible to growers and foresters, because the hope value makes it prohibitively expensive. We advocate that green belt policies should be adjusted to facilitate the establishment of farms and forestry enterprises providing goods for local consumption - for example by allowing the development of agricultural dwellings tied to productive holdings, farm shops, training centres in land based activities etc.

Caravans, Cabins and Low Impact Dwellings

Caravans, mobile homes, wooden cabins, yurts and other forms of temporary accommodation can be highly sustainable as they are usually compact, easy to heat, have low embodied energy, and have a relatively low impact on the surrounding natural landscape. We would like to see it made easier for those people who prefer to live in caravans, mobile homes, cabins, yurts or low impact dwellings to do so — whether or not they be classed as gypsies or travellers (and we agree that the settled population and travellers should be treated equally). Mechanisms such as rural exception sites should be open to mobile homes and low impact dwellings as well as bricks and mortar. The government would do well to commission research into sustainable and architecturally satisfying mobile home sites, with a view to providing advice on best practice.