We have held two public meetings for Arlington residents at Arlington Village Hall, on the 26th of September and 21st of November, 2016.
Photo: ELC’s Zoe Wangler presents the ELC’s model and plans for the Arlington site to around 50 local residents, 26 September
This page has been set up to share the concerns raised by local residents, and the steps we’ve taken to address them. These are:
- Protection of the proposed holdings for smallholding/farming;
- The cost of evicting a tenant in breach;
- Visual impact, particularly that of caravans used as temporary dwellings;
- Use of seasonal worker accommodation;
- Traffic generation;
- The viability of the smallholdings;
- Suitability of Weald clay for smallholding; and
- ELC’s plans at the end of the five-year temporary permission.
If you are a local resident and have a concern that hasn’t been addressed here, please contact zoe @ ecologicalland.coop or on 01273 766 672.
Protection of the proposed holdings for smallholding/farming
It is paramount that if the ELC is granted planning permission that the smallholdings are: used for an ecological agricultural business; occupied by the person(s) operating the smallholding business; and kept affordable.
We retain the freehold on our smallholdings and offer a strict tenancy agreement to our smallholders. Just as with county farms, the farm business tenancy that we use allows the ELC to evict a smallholder if they are in breach of their tenancy agreement. The tenancy agreement requires smallholders to operate a farm business on their holding, and adhere to the site's Management Plan. The Plan places obligations on the smallholder, including to manage the land ecologically.
Tenants cannot receive a windfall from their properties: if a tenant wishes to sell their holding, their tenancy requires that it must be sold back to the ELC in the first instance and in all cases must be sold at the re-sale value provided in their tenancy agreement, linked to inflation and not the housing market. Tenants cannot sub-let.
The ELC is a member-led organisation whose members care passionately about agriculture. Our members would not allow us to fail on one of our core objectives and watch land go to ruin or be taken out of agriculture.
The cost of evicting a tenant in breach
In the event that the smallholdings were not being operated as farm businesses, or for any other breach in the tenancy agreement, tenants would be evicted at a cost to us, the ELC, and the tenant themselves: the tenancy states that where the ELC need to evict a tenant then the tenant is only compensated to 75% of the re-sale value given in their tenancy agreement.
Visual impact, particularly that of caravans used as temporary dwellings
Local planning policy requires that new farm businesses prove their viability before a permanent planning consent can be considered. In the first instance, applicants are required to apply for a temporary planning permission, usually 3 or 5 years. Smallholders need to use temporary accommodation in this period. Temporary accommodation can be, for example, a portable timber cabin, shepherd’s hut, or caravan.
If permanent planning permission were granted at the end of the temporary period, both the ELC and Wealden District Council would require the three temporary dwellings proposed with this application to be removed and replaced by permanent dwellings. These would need to be moderate in size (not larger than 140m2) and in keeping with the landscape character. The ELC would also require the dwellings to be made of natural materials. And any other permanent structures need to first be approved by Wealden Council.
To mitigate the visual impact caused by temporary structures, we have proposed the following:
- The location proposed for the barn and temporary dwellings has been sited close to the western boundary of the field in order to restrict sprawl, and to minimise any potential visual intrusion in the open landscape.
- To plant a wide hedge, interspersed with trees, along the length (290m) of the northern field boundary to create a visual screen. This screen would be further reinforced by additional tree planting close to the north and eastern corner of the barn to break up the form of buildings in the landscape.
- Smallholders would not be allowed to site any residential infrastructure outside of the proposed residential area.
The proposed site plan can be downloaded here.
Use of seasonal worker accommodation
At Greenham Reach the smallholders have made use of members of WWOOF, a charity which allows farmers and growers to obtain volunteer labour in exchange for providing meaningful work experience and basic accommodation.
At Greenham Reach this has resulted in more temporary accommodation than many of their neighbours would wish for. With this application we are proposing to limit seasonal worker accommodation by way of the Management Plan
to one structure to be shared by the three smallholdings. This is to allow for the project to still be a WWOOF host and benefit from both the labour and learning opportunities it provides, while limiting the associated visual impact.
We anticipate that our sites with three smallholdings would generate the same levels of traffic as our pilot project, Greenham Reach which has three smallholdings. We installed a traffic monitor at Greenham and have found the site has generated an average since planning permission was granted of 5 return journeys per day, or 1.7 return journeys per household per day.
In any event, the Management Plan proposed with this application limits traffic movements to a maximum of 25 per day.
The financial viability of the smallholdings
Concerns have been raised that the smallholders will not be able to make a living from their smallholding and the smallholders may then cease to operate a farm business on their holding. The farm business tenancy that we use allow the ELC to evict a smallholder if they are in breach of their tenancy agreement. The agreement includes the requirement for them to operate a farm business on the holding. However, we wouldn’t be promoting smallholding businesses if we had doubts as to their viability.
In 2010 we commissioned research into the viability of ecological holdings on less than 10 acres. The report, Small is Successful, was published in 2011. This study of eight enterprises found smallholder annual wages to be in the range of £12,000 – £16,000 on established holdings. This finding has informed our model; we have developed our business plan so that we can deliver smallholdings at a price that relates to this income range.
We've found ecological smallholders are viable on small acreages because:
- They grow high value crops and / or sell direct to customers, quite often adding value and thereby allowing for a higher price (i.e. near to retail price) to be achieved.
- They have lower farm business costs, particularly on machinery and fuel due to the small-scale / labour intensive nature of their farming.
Smallholders also enjoy a lower cost of living, with reduced utilities costs and the input of goodwill labour, and often derive a significant proportion of their subsistence needs directly from the land.
We never choose Grade 1 agricultural land: part of our mission is to improve marginal land. None-the-less, when we look at land for potential smallholdings we ask existing successful commercial vegetable growers to assess the site for its suitability, this includes its soil. For this purchase, we took advice from Metske Van der Laan of Pannel Organic, Ru Litherland from Organic Lea, and Adrian Halstead from Barcombe Nurseries, all experienced growers. They were of the opinion that while the soil needs work, particularly on fertility, it can be improved and is suitable for commercial smallholdings.
The labour use per hectare on our smallholdings is vastly different from arable cropping which is on average 20 hours per hectare per year: we would expect our smallholders to employ upward of 1,200 hours of labour per hectare per year. This amount of labour allows techniques such as no dig, mulching, raised beds, and mixed green manuring to be used, alongside an attention to detail which may not be feasible on a larger scale.
As at Greenham Reach, it’s not expected that all of the land will be horticulture: some land will be used for top fruit and some for animal grazing.
At Greenham Reach, four local residents’ objections included that the soil would not support the proposed businesses. Two councillors during discussions at the planning committee meeting said the soil was unsuitable. At the appeal inquiry the council’s expert witness wrote in evidence that the land was seasonally water-logged clay and that “the site would not seem to be particularly well chosen for the many of the intended uses”. Greenham Reach now supports three farm businesses, and soil tests show an increase in both soil organic matter and mineral levels over the period in which smallholders have been farming.
The photos below are from Greenham Reach before our smallholders moved on, and then just one and two years after farming the land.
Photos above: the land at Greenham Reach before smallholding commenced, with areas of rush, waterlogging and compacted soil.
Photo: Wild Geese Acres salad beds, Year Two
Photo: Steepholding's vegetable beds
ELC’s plans at the end of the five-year temporary permission
If after the 5-years of temporary consent the site has delivered on the objectives of the project, i.e. demonstrable environmental and social benefits alongside financial sustainability, the ELC would seek a permanent permission for the smallholders to self-build a low-impact home.
If the project has failed, the temporary dwellings would be removed. We have included in the next draft of the Management Plan that should this happen, the ELC will consult with Arlington Parish Council regarding any future use of the remaining barn and hard-standing.