Archive for January, 2016

The Housing Bill: bad for villages

Here is an article on rural affordable housing that appears in this week’s Country Life.

Shortly before Christmas the Government declared its commitment to ‘rural proof’ all its policies. Rural issues, we were told, would be “a core policy consideration” for all departments. New mechanisms would “ensure the needs of the countryside are heard loud and clear across government”.

That was good to hear. But the Government’s housing policies, which look set to alter forever the fabric of rural life, have clearly not been rural proofed in any way.

Continue reading ‘The Housing Bill: bad for villages’

Why CPRE is promoting neighbourhood planning with government funding

CPRE is deeply unhappy with some aspects of government policy on housing and planning. As the housing and planning bill goes through Parliament and the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) is revised, we will be saying a lot about issues such as the right to buy and the so-called delivery test (which will force local authorities to release more land if those who have planning permission decide to build at their usual glacial pace). Continue reading ‘Why CPRE is promoting neighbourhood planning with government funding’

The dark side of the food industry

I spent a couple of days last week at the Oxford Real Farming Conference (ORFC). This began as an alternative to the long-established Oxford Farming Conference, which was viewed as a forum for big farmers and the agri-tech industry – lots of talk of bigger machines and new inputs, much more about ‘the industry’ than people or nature.

Having never been, I do not know if this is fair (the website gives a clue) but in its seventh year the ‘real’ conference is now the bigger of the two events.

The ORFC exists to promote agroecology, and there were plenty of organic and biodynamic farmers, smallholders and would-be Diggers attending. But I also saw people from the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), big estates, LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming) and others involved in ‘mainstream’ farming. The dialogue is good, and one can hope for a growing understanding that profitable, productive farming need not conflict with beautiful, nature-rich countryside.

However, the most challenging (and depressing) session I attended concerned not nature, but people – the migrant labourers on whom our food industry increasingly depends. I wrote about it for the next issue of the Countryman – a slightly longer version of my column is below.

Like many people, I shop carefully. Generally I try to buy from local producers I trust, but when I buy from supermarkets I look for British food to support British famers, and food with some environmental or animal welfare credentials. A debate I attended at the Oxford Real Farming Conference in January has made me realise that I need to think harder about who is producing the food and in what conditions.

The session heard from the investigative journalist Felicity Lawrence. A picture emerged of a food and farming industry dependent, to an alarming degree, on cheap migrant labourers. Many are brought to Britain with false papers and on false promises of prosperity, and kept in conditions little better than slavery. Continue reading ‘The dark side of the food industry’