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As growing numbers of land based initiatives committed to sustainability and low impact living come up against the inflexibility of UK’s planning authorities – The Corssing founder, Emma Goodwin, is convinced a sea change is coming where “appeals for planning permission are evaluated on a case by case basis with greater emphasis on contribution to community wellbeing and land regeneration as a high priority."

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Ecologist Special Report: Community Farm takes local council to High Court this Solstice

Matthew Newsome

21st June, 2017

A local food-production scheme, dedicated to conservation and sustainability in East Sussex, has been crowdfunding to finance the legal battle that will see it in the High Court today. The Crossing - a micro-farm providing affordable and pesticide free food for the surrounding Forest Row community - is taking its local council to the High Court to challenge a decision to turn down its application for planning permission and, say the petitioners, to fight for the rights of small food growers. MATTHEW NEWSOME reports

What is the council thinking? We have Food Banks in our local town and there is a national food production crisis being reported on the news. We offer practical solutions to the converging crises we face: food shortages, climate change and soil loss

Popular Sussex community farm, The Crossing, is in last chance saloon this Solstice when it goes before the High Court for a Judicial Review after local Wealden council declined to determine a second planning application for the community food growing scheme.

A previous review in January 2017, showed the local planning authority to be ‘unlawful' in declining to determine the application.  

"I say it's deeply ignorant that the local council is failing to recognise the benefits to local ecology and wellbeing of our community.  They're public servants.  How is The Crossing causing harm? Show us... we say?", says Lucy Martin, director of The Crossing CIC - a community interest company.

"What is the council thinking? We have Food Banks in our local town and there is a national food production crisis being reported on the news. We offer practical solutions to the converging crises we face: food shortages, climate change and soil loss. We need more small farms!" says founder of the Crossing Farm, Emma Goodwin.

 Struggling for food and land access

The Goodwin family and the surrounding community have mounted a determined legal appeal to the Wealden council planning system, which if successful could strengthen a precedent that helps improve access to land and food production for other small holders in the UK.

The project hit uncertain times in last November after the local Wealden council issued a total of four enforcement notices ordering the project to close - labelling it a ‘threat' to the nearby Ashdown Forest Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) - despite assessments from conservationists that since the farm began, the land has become drought resistant and wildlife and biodiversity has increased by over half.  

The Secretary of State's view from the Planning Inspectorate, which was ordered to be made publicly available, is the project was unlikely to have any effect on the SSSI.

 "This isn't just about The Crossing, this is about supporting the right to farm for good food, not for profit.  It's about teaching our children that we are part of the solution. It's about creating a resource for their community and generations to come," says Emma, who is also the South East representative of The Land Workers Alliance.

In 2010, Stuart and Emma Goodwin bought 8.5 acres of unimproved pasture next to a cycle track 10 mins from Forest Row, East Sussex. In 2014 they crowdfunded a 13m x 8m wooden shed to act as agricultural administration building, wwoofer accommodation, class room and affordable housing for agricultural workers.

"My investigation into how low impact food can strengthen communities and mitigate the dangers of climate change came about after my children became extremely ill due to dietary reasons, it was critical that I changed our eating habits to fresh local organic food to improve the family's health," says Emma.

A smallholder in the corridors of power

Motivated by the benefits of small-scale regenerative agriculture, the Goodwin family entered the planning process by submitting a business plan with the first Planning Application in October 2014 for a Community Supported Agriculture scheme and small livestock farm.

In December, 2014, Wealden council gave a flat refusal. The plan was refused on the basis that it 1) It had: "No Functional need", 2) Nitrogen depositions caused by car fumes are a danger to the Ashdown forest and 3) it was not planned on a sound financial footing.

In April 2015 the family received an enforcement notice leaving Emma Goodwin with two options.

"Compliance with the enforcement notices will destroy this community asset and make my family homeless, while non-compliance makes me a criminal," sighs Emma.

Emma swiftly made an appeal. In response the Council issued more enforcement notices in May 2015 leaving them with 15 days to find fees of £6,000 to appeal on the grounds that planning permission should be given. The Land Magazine spoke out at the time denouncing the council's move as "a corrupt and dirty tactic". In March 2016, the first appeal received a hearing and two months later it was dismissed.

Refusing to give up the fight for access to land and food for their family and community, a High Court appeal was lodged and a second planning application was submitted in August 2016 along with a second business plan, which Wealden council again declined to determine.

In November 2016, a Judicial Review concluded that the council's refusal to determine the second planning application was "unlawful".  In the same month, the council proceeded to issue more costly enforcement notices.

"The Crossing is, literally, crossing a line of institutional inflexibility about planning issues that hasn't yet caught up with the pulse of the people it is accountable to," adds Emma.

Today, (21st June, 2017) the Goodwin family and supporters of The Crossing farm will attend a judicial review hearing at the High Court. "If we win this Judicial Review: Wealden council must look at our second planning application and we're back in the planning system with professional help. If we lose this Judicial Review. I will be deemed a criminal," she adds.

 When farmers become activists

 The dire condition of Britain's soil caused the National Farmers Union earlier this year to forecast "there are less than 60 harvests if we continue to abuse the soil and water with industrial agricultural practices."  Soil experts also project that based on current rates of soil degradation the Earth has about 60 years of topsoil left.

"At The Crossing, we are using regenerative agriculture to create resilience. Resilience means adaptability in times of climate change. Using regenerative agriculture - any human can live in Eden because it lets all life thrive.  Just watch One Hundred Thousand Beating Hearts online, if you need convincing - regenerative agriculture is profitable and more intensive than ‘intensive'!" says Emma.

Helping husband a resilient landscape are pigs, sheep, and chickens - livestock that are considered to be co-workers as well as food producers - while swales and reservoirs catch water and hold it onsite letting it soak slowly, raising the water table and protecting downstream areas from floods. Recently installed is a stove to produce soil-transforming Biochar to sequester carbon.

In 2016, ‘The State of Nature' report concluded more than 120 species of wildlife in Britain are facing extinction due to intensive farming methods, while hundreds more could also be at risk due to the ‘industrialisation' of agriculture, driven by EU subsidies."

"We've seen so many Great Crested Newts, which are on the endangered list, so far this year. We provide them with habitat, and they certainly wouldn't be here if we had not created the ponds," enthuses Goodwin.

Last year, Landmatters, an eco- community in Devon was given permanent planning permission after it had its first application for dwellings on the land rejected in 2006, three years after it bought the land.

As growing numbers of land based initiatives committed to sustainability and low impact living come up against the inflexibility of UK's planning authorities - Emma Goodwin is convinced a sea change is coming where "appeals for planning permission are evaluated on a case by case basis with greater emphasis on contribution to community wellbeing and land regeneration as a high priority."

Emma adds: "Let's remember that Wealden council have the power to become a visionary and forward thinking public body. They admitted to us, off the record, that we were 10 years ahead of our time. They are working for the good of the public, many members of the public see the benefit of the work we are doing at The Crossing, and the council are public servants."

In January this year, a High Court Judicial Review ruled that Wealden Council has been unlawful in their dealings with The Crossing's planning application. 

"I will defend myself from being labelled ‘criminal' when my main aim is to grow nutrient-dense food for my local community."

*In order to challenge these notices, and continue farming at The Crossing, Emma Goodwin has launched a Crowdfunder campaign to raise £30k to protect herself from legal costs, and defend the right to live and work on a smallholding; donations can be made on the home page of their website

For more information contact info@thecrossingforestrow.com

Emma 07976 296 364

www.thecrossingforestrow.com

This Author

Matthew Newsome is a freelance journalist and writer. His written work can be found in The Guardian and New Internationalist. He has also produced radio features for broadcasting services: BBC World Service and Radio France International

 

 

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