Land is pretty much at a premium in the UK. It’s not that it is in such short supply, I mean there are vast swathes of land surrounding the towns and cities, but historically the commoner has been herded off the land and into cities. Property with land in the countryside is now unaffordable to the vast majority. Despite the recognition that there is an acute lack of affordable housing in many rural areas, planning permission for new affordable housing is rarely given. Still nothing is being done to stop existing properties being bought as second homes, pricing the locals out with devastating effects for local communities. (Simon Fairlie’s book ‘Low ImpactDevelopment: Planning and People in a Sustainable Countryside’ is very good at explaining the history that has led us to the current situation. If you are interested in these issues you could also try subscribing to ‘The Land’ magazine.)
There is a fake view of the countryside that has permeated in the UK. This is the view that the countryside was always large open fields with barely a building in sight. This is not true, as can be seen from many old paintings. Farms from necessity were much smaller in scale and labour-intensive, before the advent of cheap oil. Labourers needed to live close to where they worked. People were part of the countryside, small villages were communities that served the farms around them.
There is never going to be even a small influx of people moving back to the countryside to work on the land, with the current Planning structure in place. This doesn’t help us become more resilient. As the price of oil increases, with increasing demand from a growing global population and higher standards of living, not to mention the decreasing availability of oil now that the peak in production has passed, the cost of growing food in an energy-intensive manner will also increase and become less viable.
The Ecological Land Cooperative have been working to help small scale farming and smallholders to get started. They put together a proposal for 3 affordable smallholdings complete with 3 low impact dwellings, communal barn and PV array, at Greenham Reach in Devon. The work and effort that has been put in, to make it a sustainable and ecologically sound proposal, as well as working to meet the planning requirements, is amazing. Unfortunately the local District Councillors still turned down the planning application, but the project has now been granted planning permission through appeal. Hurrah!
One of the District Council’s objections was that it would set a precedent for future applications. I sincerely hope that this is the case and that genuinely ecologically sound, sustainable, low impact projects like this one get given a chance. Well done ELC and may your good work continue J