9 August 2002

Farm appearance police concerns

unfounded – AFS

By Isabel Davies and John Burns

HOW farms should appear to the public will not be imposed without further industry consultation, the chief executive of Assured Food Standards has promised.

David Clarke said a recent consultation paper on the issue, circulated by a company called Land Use Consultants, was for research purposes only.

It caused a furore among farmers who were concerned after seeing the LUC document, which includes a system of scoring farms on the way the yard and buildings appear to the public.

The paper includes a list of suggested "farm housekeeping" points on which farm assurance could be refused. These include an accumulation of scrap equipment/waste in yards or adjacent areas, storage areas being untidy or evidence of obvious pest activity such as rodent or bird droppings in feed storage areas.

Mr Clarke said AFS was expecting a report from LUC within the next couple of weeks but it was for Assured Food Standards to decide what to do next.

"An assumption has been made that we have asked LUC to rewrite farm assurance schemes. But they have not got any authority to do that. Nothing has been decided and there will be further consultation."

And while there had been some very vocal negative feedback there had also been some very supportive comments, stressed Mr Clarke.

"There is a strong feeling that something needs to be done about the way we treat the environment in farm assurance schemes."

But George Hill, who farms on Dartmoor and was alerted to the consultation through a local paper, described it as nonsense.

"The measures we already have should be sufficient. Maintaining the environment is nothing to do with quality and safety of food. Nor has keeping the place tidy. There are always weeds around the place. Theyre good for the wildlife. Ive never seen such a document. Its bringing real red tape into farming. They shouldnt have been so stupid as waste our time consulting on it."

Mr Hill said he particularly objected to the time-wasting form filling and production of farm plans and schemes for environmental features and conservation.

Robert Deane, of Bristol-based LUC, said the suggested standards were an amalgam of standards from existing farm assurance schemes and suggestions from the government and other bodies such as the RSPB, RSPCA, on baseline environmental standards.

On the question of tidiness of farms, Mr Deane said one concern was that if the Red Tractor logo was to be displayed by farmers they must create a good impression to passers-by or visitors.

The company had consulted to find out what farmers were prepared to do.

"There is no intention to stop farmers having scrap heaps and we want to make as few critical standards as possible. We want to avoid extra hassle and cost for farmers," said Mr Deane. &#42

P&Os compulsory purchase plans spark fury

THE NFU is considering legal action against shipping company P&O because it has served farmers near Cooling Marshes in Kent with compulsory purchase orders for their land.

The company is hoping to redevelop a former Shell Oil refinery into a major container terminal on the north side of the Thames Estuary in Essex.

But Cliffe and Cooling Marshes in Kent has also been picked by the company as a possible site for ecological improvements. Under the EU Habitats Directive, the company will have to compensate for any habitat it destroys in Essex by making improvements elsewhere.

Farmers and landowners in the Cooling Marshes area were served with CPOs on July 26.

Shaun Leavey, NFU south-east regional director, said the move put peoples livelihoods at stake and he intended to fight it every step of the way.

"Compulsory purchase powers should not be given to a commercial organisation to effectively acquire land on the cheap," he said. "We see it as a totally improper use of compulsory purchase powers and we want to see ministers withdraw it."

Ron Lamb, one of the landowners affected, pointed out the land was a valuable wildlife habitat because he had turned arable land back to grazing marsh as part of conservation schemes such as Countryside Stewardship.

But P&O said the site had been included on a precautionary basis and it could be decided that it was not suitable for ecological work or that such work was not even necessary.

A statement said that all of the proposals would be fully considered by a public inquiry and that the company was happy to meet the NFU to discuss any matters further. &#42

Farmer loses battle to extend hidden house

A CUMBRIA farmer living in the shadow of five wind turbines has been refused retrospective planning permission for an extension to his remote farmhouse, despite the fact that it is hidden from public view.

Ray Crawford, who farms at Lambrigg between Kendal and Sedbergh, was told by South Lakeland District Council that he must knock down the extension to the five-bedroom house he is building on his 120ha (300 acre) unit.

Mr Crawford said the councils decision was "bizarre nonsense" because, from the Sedbergh road, his house is dwarfed by the 43m high wind turbines.

"They are absolutely atrocious and its crazy that the council is telling me to demolish my extension."

The house itself is barely visible from a stretch of the A684 Sedbergh road, but the extension, which is at the rear, is completely hidden.

Peter Ridgway, SLDCs head of development control, conceded that the house is largely hidden by the hillside.

But he added:"If Mr Crawford is seen to get away with this situation, it will encourage others.

"Had Mr Crawfords appeal been successful I would have been very sad. Indeed, it would have been a very sad day for planning in South Lakeland and the rest of the country."

Mr Ridgway added that SLDC would continue to oppose Mr Crawfords application if he decided to exercise his right to appeal to the High Court. &#42