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Orchard Park

Update: 23rd November 2020

We have prepared a draft planning application which we have submitted for pre-application advice. You can read the main documents of the draft planning application here:

The Ecological Land Cooperative (ELC) is excited to announce the purchase of our fifth site in Nertherton, North Cornwall, a 20.4 acre field (see map below), continuing the work of making land accessible to ecological farming.

The Ecological Land Cooperative works to create affordable ecological smallholdings for new entrants to farming – those who would ordinarily be unable to afford a house in the countryside yet who wish to earn a living through farming.

It is our intention to apply for temporary planning permission for this site to create three residential small farms for three households. We would create a Section 106 agreement that legally ties the holdings to operate a viable agricultural business. If after five years the businesses are a success we will apply for permanent permission. If achieved, at this point the farmers would be able to build permanent agriculturally tied dwellings within a set footprint and height and working to environmentally sustainable principles. The households would also be legally tied to an Ecological Management Plan and an annual monitoring process carried out by the ELC.

As we prepare our planning application we are interested to hear local people’s comments, questions or concerns.

Ordinarily we would host a community meeting nearby to present to local residents our plans and to answer your questions in person. However, the ELC team is currently working remotely on preparing the planning application and respecting government advice regarding social distancing and self-isolation during the Covid-19 crisis. 

We passionately believe our farms contribute to a thriving rural economy and community, providing access to local food whilst increasing the biodiversity and ecology of the landscape. Recent events have highlighted the increasing need for locally grown, healthy food for communities.

If you have any questions or comments before we submit our planning application then please email or phone 01273 766672. We will be keeping this webpage up to date with our progress and answers to any common questions.

Response to Questions and Concerns

Below we have summarised some commonly asked questions and concerns and responded to them in regards to this site. As we prepare our planning application more detail will be released and please do get in touch if you have any queries. 

Visual Impact & Development
We will ensure that any negative visual impact is minimised and screened where appropriate. Our existing sites prove that over the first few years the additional trees and shelterbelts we will plant will create a beneficial visual impact. 

The location proposed for the barn and dwellings has been sited in one development zone to restrict sprawl, and to minimise any potential visual intrusion in the open landscape.

Some covered growing (polytunnel) is essential in this country to extend the growing season, given our climate. We will not allow any of the holdings to become entirely covered growing areas. However, vast amounts of the food currently consumed in the UK is produced under plastic in semi-desert areas of Spain and Morocco, with the attendant problems of water shortages and near slavery work conditions. On balance we believe it is better for us to grow food here in the UK where we can monitor the production. 

We believe that our small farms can add to the beauty, biodiversity and economy of the area. All development and landscaping is carefully designed and sensitively situated and our proposals therefore conserve and enhance the natural beauty of the area.

Any permanent dwellings will have to meet ecological building criteria. These would need to be moderate in size (not larger than 140m2 with a height limit of 5.5m) and in keeping with the landscape character. The ELC would also require the dwellings to be made predominantly of natural materials. 

Any temporary accommodation will comply with planning requirements and will not be so large or high as to affect local landscape amenity. The most likely forms will be mobile homes or timber cabins. If needed we will require screening with natural materials. 

Traffic & Access
We will be consulting with the highways department at the council and will ensure the access is suitable and safe for accessing the holdings.

We will create an off-road parking area for visitors to the site. 

Our understanding is that the footpath crossing the site is permissive. It will remain accessible to members of the public although we believe it's official designation is around the edge of the field rather than through the middle of it and so we plan to clearly mark the path with this in mind.

Protection of the Agriculture Tie / Section 106
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 small farm business; and kept affordable.

The agricultural tie is essential to seeing that the land is used productively and we will not seek to remove it unless there is another policy instrument that better protects the land for productive and ecological management. As the ELC maintains the freehold of the land and issues lease which enshrine the agricultural tie it is not possible for any individual smallholder to ask for it to be removed.

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. The ELC carry out annual monitoring to ensure tenants are following the management plan. Fortunately the ELC has not had to enforce this right to date.

Tenants cannot receive a windfall from their properties: if a tenant wishes to sell the lease to their holding, their tenancy requires that it must be offered 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, based on their improvements and not the housing market, with a strict cap to maintain affordability for the next leaseholder. Tenants cannot sub-let, and any future tenants would still be governed by the lease and management plan. There is provision in the lease for the tenant to retire from farming and continue to live on the land, as long as the land is being well looked after. 

The ELC is a member-led organisation whose members care passionately about ecological 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 Businesses & Financial Viability of Small Farms
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.
In 2018 we conducted further research and compiled a booklet of ten case studies of farms making a profit on small acreages from across the UK – with the highest level of income at £80,000 per acre. You can read about the case studies here.

It would be against our values to conflict with existing local businesses – instead we aim to provide a supply of local foods and products that are lacking in the local area, or where the demand outweighs current supply. We look to collaborate with existing businesses where possible and work together to improve provision of good local food for the local community and rural economy.

Operations such as battery chicken, or other intensive livestock farming would go against our ecological and ethical values and would not be permitted under our whole site management plan. The ELC monitors each plot against the management plan and reports to the council annually.

Example business from our other sites are vegetable box scheme, salad bags, cut flowers, sheep & pigs, herbs, micro goat dairy and fruit tree grafting.

The ELC’s creation of ecological small farms are not a money making development. We are motivated by environmental issues, and concern for local economies and rural regeneration. The ELC sell 150 year leases on the land in order to recoup the money spent on buying the land and creating the smallholdings. The smallholding leases are sold at well below market rate to keep them affordable for new entrants to farming.

The success of our endeavours will be measured by well managed businesses, increases in biodiversity and wildlife, and people contributing healthy produce for the local community

Application Process
You can read about our open application process here.

Our tenants go through a rigorous application process including an assessment of their business plans for financial viability.

Where all other things are equal and criteria are met, we will give weight to applications from people with pre-existing local connections over those from further away. As a cooperative we believe strongly in equality and our recruitment process for new tenants for our farms looks at their passion and capability to do a good job building an ecological small farm business above all else.

Each holding must provide a minimum of one full-time-equivalent worker. Each holding may use volunteers or trainees as additional labour at certain times.