We must protect our food-growing land
Labour MP for Bristol East, Kerry McCarthy sets the context for her Westminster Hall debate today; the threat to an award winning food growing project in her constituency
The urban food-growing movement has really taken off in recent years, as people become more concerned about the provenance of their food, want to see more sustainable food and farming practices, and want to protect urban biodiversity and wildlife. As recent EFRA Select Committee reports have highlighted, it is also about food security and the UK’s declining self-sufficiency in food. I also very much think it should be as part of a strategy to tackle food poverty, and the public health challenges associated with poor diets.
Bristol is widely recognised as the city in the vanguard of this movement. Back in 2009, Bristol Council commissioned a report ‘Who feeds Bristol? Towards a resilient food plan’, and then set up its own Food Policy Council, which included the objective of increasing the amount of land for growing food. Bristol Food Network now helps to connect up those people and businesses – too many to name here - with a shared vision of transforming Bristol into a truly sustainable food city.
Sadly, my main motivation for calling this debate is the threat facing an award winning community food growing project in my constituency, Feed Bristol, and the long-established Stapleton allotments. The local council wants to put a bus route through it and the planning committee gave it the green light to do so.
The land is designated Green Belt and includes the Frome Valley Conservation Area, as well as a Wildlife Corridor and woodland. It is also on “the Blue Finger”, an area of Best and Most Versatile agricultural land, (ie Grade 1, 2 or 3 soil.) Such land is recognised as a precious national asset in securing our food supply, because once lost, it is almost impossible to return it to agricultural use. But we know from a Defra report of 2011 that there has been a huge loss of BMV land to development over recent years.
In today’s debate I will be asking the Minister why the National Planning Policy Framework does not specifically cover local food growing, which tends to mean that Local Plans do not include it either. Promoting local food can be put into a local plan – and in Bristol it is included in both its Local Plan and in its Core strategy – but it does not have to be. I will also be asking about allotments policy. Last year, Labour’s Shadow Communities Secretary, Hilary Benn, found that Eric Pickles had rejected just 2 out of 83 applications by councils to sell allotment sites for development.
Bristol is this year’s European Green Capital. If we cannot protect our food-growing land, then what hope is there that other urban areas will do so? I don’t know if there is anything the Minister will be able to do at this eleventh hour to protect the Blue Finger – I do hope he tries – but if not, we should certainly try to prevent this happening again in the future.