Eco-farmers may launch an appeal
CHAMPIONS for sustainable farming have not ruled out appealing against a decision to reject plans for a residential smallholding in Mid Devon.
The London-based Ecological Land co-operative hoped to win permission to set up a temporary farmers co-operative at Greenham Reach, Holcombe Rogus.
The scheme had the backing of the parish council, and several high profile environmentalists, including Tory MP Zac Goldsmith.
The project would have seen smallholders living on the site, using wood burning stoves used for heating and solar panels for electricity.
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Members of the co-operative wanted to set up a market garden and a small vegetable and herb nursery, as well as growing fruit and mushrooms on the 22-acre site.
But, as previously reported in the Gazette, members of Mid Devon District Council's planning committee went against the advice of their own planning officers to refuse permission to the scheme.
Members said they were not convinced there was a need for the tenant farmers to live on site and said a business plan "did not stack up".
Dr Larch Maxey, a spokesperson for the co-operative, said members are considering their options.
"We're prepared to rework plans if that will help, and we have strong grounds for appeal if we want to go down that route," he said.
"We made it very clear that there was an essential need (to live on site). We had six independent assessors and analysts look at the business plans, livelihood plans and site plans, and they agreed that this was essential for the community.
"The committee need to do their homework and assess this application more closely.
"This is something that Devon isn't used to judging in this way. I understand that on conventional grounds this wouldn't have held up, but we're not talking about conventional grounds."
The smallholdings would have been broken up into three separate plots of 5.5 acres, 6.8 acres and 8.9 acres. The plan had high-profile support from Green Party leader Caroline Lucas and academics, as well as Mr Goldsmith, but councillors also feared that allowing residency on agricultural land would set a precedent when many similar plans had been turned down.
Objectors also questioned the farms' profit margins and suitability of the site as one parcel of land falls sharply towards the river and quality of land is poor.
Dr Maxey added: "I understand people's concerns, it's not a traditional farming site but it's got good aspects to the land.
"These businesses are very productive on a small scale, and they are operating on marginal pieces of land.
"Ours is far less marginal – there are flat areas suitable for arable farming and the south, south-east facing areas are very helpful for growing vegetables and plant-based produce.
"These businesses would be a real asset to the community.
"They will always be buying and selling produce within the immediate economy."