vital for diversification plans

2 June 2000

Clearer guidelines

vital for diversification plans

CLEARER planning guidance for local authorities is essential to help – rather than hinder – farmers who are trying to diversify their businesses, according to the south east regional office of the Country Landowners Association.

It argues that over-zealous interpretation of planning policy guidelines by local authorities is threatening farmers ability to diversify as advised by the government.

Although it is an issue that affects the whole country, south east farmers are particularly disadvantaged because many have no alternatives to diversification because of the poor quality of some of their soils, it claims.

The view that planners are getting in the way of diversification is certainly one shared by Kent farmer Lorna Harris of Manor Farm, Southfleet.

Having just had an application to develop a childrens farm park turned down because planners object to a car park in a green belt area, Mrs Harris says planners in the region dont seem to have heard the message from Prime Minister Tony Blair that diversification should be encouraged.

"There seems to be a total lack of policy," she said. "We are in an area which is destined to be developed anyway. It just seems to be crazy that the whole government policy is to diversify and then we are stopped."

"The councils seem able to put housing on green fields and here we are only wanting to put some hard-standing down and park a few cars and we cant do it."

The Harris family, who farm 200ha (500 acres) of combinable crops and vegetables near the urban centre of Gravesend feel particularly let down because when they first started talking with planning authorities about a childrens farm three years ago the response was fairly positive.

If the application was not going to be acceptable then this should have been made clear from the start, said Mrs Harris.

"We have put time and money into this. If they [planners] had indicated three years ago there was no way we would have got the application past, we would have looked at something else."

she says.

"We have thrown so much money at the project now we feel we have to go on with it."

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