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Co-operative wins smallholding battle

PUBLISHED: 16:35 17 April 2013 | UPDATED: 08:40 28 March 2014

APR 17, 2013: An environmental co-operative which featured in Country Smallholding has won its battle to develop three sustainable smallholdings on the Devon/Somerset border. 

The Ecological Land Co-operative was seeking to create the smallholdings for new entrants to ecological agriculture at Greenham Reach near Holcombe Rogus. The story featured in the January issue of CS.

The ELC will be allowed to develop the three sustainable smallholdings after a planning inspector allowed their appeal against refusal of planning permission by Mid Devon District Council.
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The plans were originally turned down by councillors in June 2012, despite being recommended for approval by planning officers.

Councillors argued there was no 'essential need' to live on the land, but inspector, Jessica Graham, found the proposals accorded with the local development plan and said other material considerations must 'weigh heavily' in favour of granting planning permission for the scheme.

The inspector's report states that the council contended that the Co-operative was taking a 'hair shirt' approach to the management of the smallholdings and that if other less labour-intensive methods of controlling pests and heating polytunnels could be adopted, no one would need to live on site.

However, she said: "It is important to have regard to the full extent and context of the proposals for Greenham Reach. Fundamental to the establishment and operation of the smallholdings are the appellant's aims of addressing the need to reduce the negative environmental impacts of conventional farming and globalised food distribution, and the need to facilitate and learn from low impact development."

The inspector said the prospective tenants had been carefully selected by the appellant and extensive safeguards were in place to ensure the smallholdings would be operated in accordance with eco-living principles.

Plans for the three separate plots include growing organic produce, horticulture supplemented by beehives and a flock of Marans hens and market gardening, but as this would be developed without the use of agro-chemicals and reliance on fossil fuels, the inspector judged this would require the worker's presence and involvement to such an extent that they would need to live on site.

The inspector also felt the innovative nature of the project meant it was "unlikely to be easily replicated by people merely seeking a dwelling in the countryside" and thus was unlikely to set a precedent for future development.

Zoe Wangler, managing director of the Ecological Land Co-operative which is based in London, said they were "absolutely overjoyed" by the inspector's decision.
"This has been a hard won permission, made possible through the goodwill of our advisors, members and supporters," she said.

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