Planners fear eco-farm will set precedent
By Mid Devon Gazette | Tuesday, May 15, 2012, 08:00
BUSINESS plans for an experimental agriculture scheme will be scrutinised by councillors to decide if the project goes ahead.
Zoe Wangler, from the Ecological Land Cooperative
An East London-based social enterprise called the Ecological Land Co-operative (ELC), wants a temporary five-year permission to turn farmland at Greenham Reach, nearHolcombe Rogus, into trial smallholdings incorporating a mixed organic holding, poultry hatchery/brooder, plots for market gardening, and a small vegetable and herb nursery.
Tenant farmers would live on the site.
To increase the green credentials, the company says there will be solar panels, a waste water treatment system and electricity will be generated from renewable sources.
But the scheme has sparked concerns among local residents who say although the scheme is a good idea, the chosen location is not practical.
Zoe Wangler, ELC's managing director, said the scheme would "improve the biodiversity of the area and provide local food" and tenants' efforts would be monitored to provide valuable data about this type off co-operative development.
Resident Frances Freeman spoke on behalf of objectors. She said the scheme amounted to greenfield development in the open countryside and was contrary to planning policy.
"None of the proposed tenants will provide a viable income on their own," she said.
"If this scheme goes ahead, we will be setting a precedent for ELC and other less responsible groups to repeat this form of development."
The scheme was debated by members of Mid Devon's planning committee at a meeting in Tiverton Town Hall on Wednesday.
Councillor Heather Bainbridge, one of the ward councilors for the area, said there had been "a lot of disquiet" about the application.
She said: "When I think of the number of young people whose dreams we have shattered – who had plans to do similar things, but we refused that and in effect made them homeless, I feel local residents have every reason to be wary."
Councillor Ray Stanley said members had not had a chance to see the business plans prepared in conjunction with the application.
Planning officer Jenny Clifford said she had received no requests from members to inspect the business plan, which was available at the council offices.
Councillor Paul Williams said he could "see the benefits" of the application, but he went on: "this is a pilot scheme but I still don't see why the tenants need to be living on site." He proposed the application be deferred to a future meeting to allow the business plans associated with the scheme to be studied.
Councillor Sue Griggs agreed and said: "It is vital to read those business plans before we go any further."
Councillor Kevin Wilson reminded councillors that the applicant were seeking a temporary position.
Members voted to defer the application.