Defining Rural Sustainability
Fifteen Criteria for Sustainable Developments in the Countryside
Three Model Policies for Local Plans
Development is the cornerstone of both
the Government's rural policies and its planning policies." -Planning Policy Guidance 7
concept of 'sustainability' is comparatively new to the environment
is protean in meaning and extremely difficult
to define in any precise sense." -Deputy Judge Nigel Macleod QC
II. Fifteen Criteria for
Sustainable Land-Based Rural Developments
What Is Sustainability? The Situation in the UK
Access to Land through Environmentally Sound Planning
The Need for Criteria
The Criteria with Commentary
III. Three Model Local Plan Policies
Policy A: Sustainable Land-Based Activities
Policy B: Dwellings Associated with These Activities
Policy C: Sustainable Affordable Housing
Conditions and Planning Obligations
Other Means of Regulating Sustainable Developments
IV. Using the Criteria
V. Explanatory Notes
The Financial Test
Minimizing Car Use
Low Embodied Energy
Plan Deposit Draft, Policy H10
South Somerset Deposit Draft Local Plan, Policy HG11
List of Organizations
Description of Authors / Acknowledgments
What are the Aims of this Document?
I.1. The government has made plain its commitment to sustainability, and sustainability is regarded as a material consideration in planning decisions. However there is very little guidance on what actually constitutes a sustainable form of development in the countryside. Planning Policy Guidances 1 and 7 list a number of broad "objectives", such as "to meet economic and social needs" and "to maintain or enhance the character of the countryside".1 But neither of these documents nor any other government guidance give any yardstick by which the sustainability or the environmental impacts of projects which provide people with livelihoods and homes in the countryside can be assessed.
I.2. Planners, and other professionals involved with rural development may therefore find it difficult to assess the merits of a project which claims to be "sustainable" or "low-impact", or find grounds for refusal of one that they suspect is not. For example, the reasoned justification for policy HG11 on "Low-impact Dwelling Sites" in the emerging South Somerset Local Plan states, "The District Council will seek to establish criteria which can be used to evaluate the success or otherwise of low-impact dwelling sites." The council's search eventually led to the High Court. In an appeal against a South Somerset DC decision concerning a low-impact development, Deputy Judge Nigel McLeod QC unhelpfully concluded that "the concept of 'sustainability' is comparatively new to the environment field, is protean in meaning and extremely difficult to define in any precise sense."2
I.3. In 1996 a working group under was set up under the auspices of The Land Is Ours in order to address this policy vacuum ; this document is the initial result of the work performed by that group. The document has two main aims:
(1) to provide a list of criteria or indicators designed to help planners and other decision-makers seeking clarification on the sustainability of a given project. They represent a check-list of attainments and objectives which are likely to characterize a dedicated sustainable or low-impact rural land-based project.
(2) to suggest means by which adherence to these objectives can be encouraged, assured and maintained over a period of time.
To Whom is this Document Addressed?
I.4. The document is addressed to two separate constituencies of professional people concerned with these issues. On the one hand, there are those who work within the planning system - council officers, employees of the Department of the Environment Transport and the Regions (DETR) and planning committee members. On the other, there are those who work from outside the planning system - for example representatives of regional and economic development agencies, voluntary organizations and funding bodies, Local Agenda 21 officers, environmental consultants, agricultural and forestry experts, land managers, architects etc. Their roles, in this context, are fairly distinct.
I.5. The role of non-planners is frequently pro-active: to identify, encourage or carry out forms of rural development that will contribute to a more sustainable countryside and rural economy. Such people are not necessarily invested with the power to ensure that such developments stick to their original objectives
I.6. The role of planners, on the other hand, is more reactive. They are required to operate according to the guidance provided by the DETR, and in their development plans. Their opportunities for pro-active encouragement of new forms of development are limited. However, they have tools at their disposal for ensuring that an established low-impact development does not change into something high impact. These two stances are reflected in the two main sections of this document.
I.7. Chapter II examines the land-use and planning issues from the wider viewpoint of the pro-active advocate of sustainable rural development. What exactly is "sustainable development"? What are the primary indicators of a sustainable low-impact rural project? What are the criteria by which proposals for such developments can be assessed?
I.8. Chapter III covers the same field, but more from the standpoint of the professional planner, working within the present policy context. How can sustainable rural developments be distinguished from unsustainable ones? How can planners encourage sustainable projects without opening the door to unsustainable ones? And how can the continuing sustainability of a project be assured? The framework that we have chosen to present possible answers to these questions is one that is familiar to planners: that of model policies and conditions, backed up by reasoned justification.
What Kind of Developments are Discussed?
I.9. The criteria and policies put forward here are only applicable for rural projects where the site, immediately or over time, will generate a significant proportion of the occupiers' livelihood through land-based activities conducted on a full-time or a part-time basis. (The term "land-based activities" includes agriculture, forestry, equiculture, fish-farming, game management, small-scale quarrying, landscape management for conservation or amenity purposes and activities which add value to these pursuits - see note p. xx). The criteria and policies have not been designed for developments which are solely residential, retail or light industrial, nor for projects sited in an urban or suburban setting .
I.10. We have concentrated on land-based projects for two main reasons: because sustainable land management is fundamental to a healthy rural economy;3 and because any project involving land-based activity has, by its very nature, a clear need to be sited in the countryside. With other projects the need may be questionable and we do not wish, at this stage, to tackle this controversial question. This in no way suggests that we consider non-land-based projects in the countryside to be necessarily unsustainable; nor that there is no need for criteria for such projects; nor that the criteria here presented are totally inapplicable to such projects.
I.11. Provided that there is a significant element of land-based activity, the criteria and policies presented in this document are not in any other way restricted to any particular kind of development. They could be applied to a farm, a woodland workshop, a hamlet of smallholdings, a retail outlet selling home-grown and home-processed goods, a school, a recreational centre focussing on craft or conservation activities, an equestrian centre, a religious community, a travellers' site, a "Country House", or a large-scale "ecovillage".
Any Other Questions?
I.12. The recommendations made in Chapters II and III raise a number of other questions, some of which are covered in subsidiary sections. Chapter IV provides a brief conclusion examining how and where the criteria and policies outlined in the previous two chapters are likely to be used, and raises the prospect of setting up a body charged with assessment. A number of explanatory notes are provided on pages xxx, and two policies from deposit drafts of development plans are printed in the appendices. A list of relevant organizations capable of directing readers to further sources of information is provided on p. xxx.
Fifteen Criteria for developments associated with sustainable land-based rural activities
 The project has a management plan which demonstrates:
[a] how the site will contribute significantly towards the occupiers' livelihoods;
[b] how the objectives cited in items 2 to 14 below will be achieved and maintained.
 The project provides affordable access to land and/or housing to people in need.
 The project provides public access to the countryside, including temporary access such as open-days and educational visits.
 The project can demonstrate how it will be integrated into the local economy and community.
 The project can demonstrate that no activities pursued on the site shall cause undue nuisance to neighbours or the public.
 The project has prepared a strategy for the minimization of motor vehicle use.
 The development and any buildings associated with it are appropriately sited in relation to local landscape, natural resources and settlement patterns.
 New buildings and dwellings are not visually intrusive nor of a scale disproportionate to the site and the scale of the operation; and are constructed from materials with low embodied energy and environmental impact, and preferably from locally sourced materials, unless environmental considerations or the use of reclaimed materials determine otherwise. Reuse and conversion of existing buildings on the site is carried out as far as practicable in conformity with these criteria.
 The project is reversible, insofar as new buildings can be easily dismantled and the land easily restored to its former condition.
 The project plans to minimize the creation of waste and to reuse and recycle as much as possible on site.
 The project has a strategy for energy conservation and the reduction, over time, of dependence on non-renewable energy sources to a practical minimum.
 The project aims over time for the autonomous provision of water, energy and sewage disposal and where it is not already connected to the utilities, shall make no demands upon the existing infrastructure.
 Agricultural, forestry and similar land-based activities are carried out according to sustainable principles. Preference will be given to projects which conform to registered organic standards, sustainable forestry standards or recognized permaculture principles.
 The project has strategies and programmes for the ecological management of the site, including :
[a] the sustainable management and improvement of soil structure;
[b] the conservation and, where appropriate, the enhancement of semi-natural habitat, taking into account biodiversity, indigenous species, and wildlife corridors;
[c] the efficient use and reuse of water, as well as increasing the water holding capacity of the site;
[d] the planting of trees and hedges, particularly in areas where the tree coverage is less than 20 per cent.
 The project can show that affordability and sustainability are secured, for example, by the involvement of a housing association, co-operative, trust or other social body whose continuing interest in the property will ensure control over subsequent changes of ownership and occupation
II Fifteen Criteria for Sustainable Land-Based Rural Developments
What Is Sustainability?
II.1. There have been many definitions of sustainability, but there is one definitive statementwhich has been internationally endorsed by the British and most other national governments throughout the world. This is the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, of June 1992, which is backed up by an extensive programme for social change known as Agenda 21.
II.2. The Rio Declaration contains 27 principles. Principle 3 states that the right to development must be fulfilled so as to equitably meet developmental and environmental needs of present and future generations. Other principles in the declaration assert the need for conserving and restoring the Earth?s ecosystem, eradicating poverty as an indispensable requirement of sustainable development, and encouraging citizen participation.
II.3. Chapter 7 of Agenda 21 specifically addresses Sustainable Human Settlement Development, and provides a detailed policy context for matters relating to planning and construction. Section C of this chapter, on Sustainable Land-Use Planning and Management, begins: ?Access to land resources is an essential component of sustainable low-impact lifestyles.? It continues: ?The objective is to provide for the land requirements of human settlement development, through environmentally sound physical planning and land use so as to ensure access to land to all households.?4
The Situation in the UK
II.4. Over the last half century, while considerable attention has been paid to the matter of "environmentally sound planning" in the countryside, "ensuring access to land" has not been a primary objective. On the contrary, farms have become progressively amalgamated, and the agricultural workforce is a quarter of the size it was in 1947. The subsidies allocated under the Common Agricultural Policy and the development of increasingly sophisticated farming technologies have clearly played key roles in this process. But the planning system has also been a major factor.
II.5. The primary objective of British rural planning policy over the last fifty years has been to restrain all forms of development in the countryside other than those associated with farming and forestry. There are very laudable reasons for this restraint, and there is no doubt that if it were not for the planning system, the encroachment upon the countryside of suburban sprawl and "footloose urban development" would be a good deal worse than it is. However the free hand given to agriculture and forestry has allowed industrialization of the countryside to proceed under an altogether different guise. As is now belatedly recognized, much of Britain's landscape has been drastically altered in recent years. At the taxpayers' expense, hedgerows have been grubbed up, ancient woodland felled, meadows ploughed under and wetlands drained, to be replaced by prairie-like monocultures and intensive stock-rearing units whose economic and ecological sustainability is highly questionable.5
II.6 Moreover this process of agricultural "rationalization" has had a debilitating effect upon rural social life. As jobs have disappeared in agriculture and associated industries, so rural residences and farm buildings have been bought up by commuters, weekenders and retired people whose superior buying power usually derives from their urban incomes. This process has brought with it an increased dependence upon the motor car and a decline of rural facilities such as shops, schools, markets and public transport.6
II.7. In particular, the haemorrhage of farming buildings into the "counter-urban" economy, coupled with draconian planning restrictions upon any form of development in the countryside not associated with competitive agriculture, has made it doubly difficult for prospective farmers who wish to run a holding on less industrial lines, or at a scale which does not attract massive subsidies. The acquisition of land with buildings attached is often prohibitively expensive, because of the development potential; but any development upon a bareland holding, and especially residential development, will invite protracted opposition from the local planning authority on the grounds that the applicant is not a bona fide farmer.The effects can be seen throughout Britain, wherever there is marginal land. Farmhouses and labourers' cottages have been sold off at a handsome profit; many of the original barns and
II.8. The problem here
is that access - and by this we mean access to planning
permission rather than access to land tenure - is being made difficult for precisely
the people who are interested in managing land in the manner and at the scale most likely to recreate a thriving sustainable rural economy. If the British people want hedgerows and small fields, coppices and wetlands, wildflowers and hay meadows - and the increase in biodiversity that this sort of landscape entails - then it is to the smaller scale, more adaptable, more labour intensive type of farming that they would do best to turn. If rural people are to benefit from accessible facilities and better public transport, then a larger core of workers wedded to the local land-based economy is necessary to counterbalance the influx of commuters.
II.9. The main obstacle to this happening is not lack of people or lack of affordable agricultural land every year thousands of people buy or rent a smallholding of land with a view to making a full-time or part-time living from it. Nor is it lack of commercial potential: while the price of globally marketed agricultural commodities is stagnant or falling, the demand for healthy organic food and for local and speciality products is rising.8 The main obstacles are agricultural and food distribution policies which favour large industrial farmers; and the planning policies which penalize those who don't conform to this model.
Access to Land through Environmentally Sound Planning
II.10. At the planning level, the resolution of this problem is unexpectedly straightforward and far-reaching. If agricultural and forestry applications were assessed primarily according to their contribution towards sustainable land management (rather than, as at present, according to their ability to generate income) then planners could, in the words of Agenda 21, "provide access to land through environmentally sound planning". Planners and applicants would enter into a social contract whereby the right to occupy and develop land was given in return for a secure commitment to protecting and enhancing the environment. Planners would be saying to farmers and other land managers: "we will allow you to build/work/live on your land providing you can assure us that you will manage it sustainably."
II.11. Such an approach would have three main benefits: firstly it would provide an incentive for the sustainable management of land; secondly it would help planners to ensure that land was sustainably managed; and thirdly it would allow affordable access to land for those who could show that their activities upon a holding were sustainable.
II.12 Such a shift in planning policy (particularly if coupled with complementary measures and financial incentives that are emerging in other policy fields) would dissolve many of the problems that have plagued the English countryside for the last fifty years or more. There would be more opportunities for people to work and live sustainably in the countryside. The increase in the number of people committed to local land-based activities would support other local industries and help to make local services viable; public transport systems would benefit and rural car dependency would diminish; and fresh, safely produced local produce would become more available.
II.13 At the same time, countryside protection would improve since farming practices on sustainable holdings could progressively be brought under the control of the planning system. The protection or reinstatement of woodland, hedgerows, meadows or wetlands would be viewed as an integral part of the development process. The caravans, makeshift shacks and recycled freight containers which presently are typical of low income farming ventures would be replaced by more confident and low-impact forms of rural architecture. A new landscape would begin to emerge, more human in scale, richer in biodiversity and more in harmony with the processes of nature.
The Need for Criteria
II.14. Until recently, such a shift in policy would have been difficult to achieve under the English planning system, since very little distinction was made between sustainable and unsustainable activities. However recent Government planning guidance (described in detail in Chapter 3) has endorsed the international consensus concerning sustainable development. Local plans are now expected to include specific policies for sustainable rural land use and these policies will influence development control. In effect, there will be a degree of planning presumption in favour of developments that are judged to be sustainable and against those that can be shown to be unsustainable.
II.15. Unfortunately there is as yet no guidance as to how sustainability can be judged.Planning Policy Guidance 7, for instance, proclaims that "sustainability is the cornerstone of both the Government's rural policies and its planning policies" . But its guidelines for assessing new agricultural or forestry dwellings cover only the functional need for the building and the financial viability of the enterprise with which it is associated: no mention is made of sustainability or of environmental impacts. This pattern is reflected throughout government planning guidance. Although there is a wealth of technical literature examining every aspect of sustainable development, comparatively little of this has yet been translated into coherent policy.
II.16. The fifteen criteria listed on the opposite/following page have been drawn up to address this deficiency. They are put forward as a realistic set of criteria by which the sustainability and impact of land-based rural developments can be assessed. They can be applied to any rural development, whether or not it is residential, provided there is a significant element of land-based activity on the site providing people with livelihoods (for definition of the term ?land-based?, see p. xxx). They can be used by a variety of professionals including planners, other council officials, land agents, funders, designers, rural development workers - and, of course, farmers, foresters and other land managers. And they will help clarify to politicians and to the public what sustainability means.
II.17. The criteria have been determined within the context of the broader objectives cited in Agenda 21 of ?access to land? and ?environmentally sound management?. They have also been drawn up within the context of the vast body of expertise on the subject that has been established over the last two decades both by Government institutions and by the voluntary sector. Each criterion is accompanied by a short commentary which explains how it relates to existing nationally and internationally agreed policies, and outlines some of the technical issues.
II.18. The criteria, as presented here, are stringent and represent an ideal. It will be up to the assessing body to judge how far a given project in a given situation may be permitted to fall short of the ideal. The word criterion is defined in the dictionary as ?a characterizing mark or trait; a standard on which a judgment or decision may be based.?(Websters) Meeting a criterion is an indication of sustainability; it does not always follow that failure to meet a criterion is an indication of unsustainability. For example an earth-sheltered building should not be regarded as unsustainable because it failed to conform with Criterion 9.
The Criteria in Detail
(1) The project has a management plan which demonstrates:
(a) how the site will contribute significantly towards the occupiers? livelihoods;
(b) how the objectives cited in items 2 to 14 below will be achieved and maintained.
PPG7 (para. C24) recommends, but does not require, provision of a farm plan in support of applications for farm diversification. Such plans ?can demonstrate how a proposal fits into the wider farming picture and set out its environmental consequences?.
A management plan should be deemed necessary, in conjunction with all sustainable rural developments (other than very small ones), for the following reasons:
To allow the public, local
councils and other interested bodies, such as local wildlife groups,
to assess the aims and objectives of the project.
To ensure that the specific objectives of the project are fully integrated and that there is no inherent conflict between any ofthese objectives;
To assess whether these objectives can realistically be achieved over a given time-scale and with the resources available.
A management plan should normally have three sections:
(i) Description of the site, including a comprehensive biological survey;
(ii) Evaluation of the site, including a set of management objectives: suggestions and support for these should be sought from appropriate agencies or experts;
(iii) Prescription, listing the work necessary to achieve the management objectives.
The management plan does not necessarily need to be a weighty document. However, it could become legally binding and should be drafted with care. It should normally be drawn up together with a business plan showing financial projections.
(2) The project provides affordable access to land and/or housing to people in need.
As noted above, access to land is a primary objective of Section 7 of Agenda 21. Affordable rural housing is encouraged through the rural exceptions policy, outlined in Annex A of Planning Policy Guidance 3 (Housing). A project should not necessarily be viewed as unsustainable if it does not provide access to land or accommodation for lower income people; but if it does provide affordable housing or access to land, that should be regarded as a point in its favour.
(3) The project provides public access to the countryside, including temporary access such as open-days and educational visits.
Public access to land is more restricted in the UK than in most Europeancountries, where a ?right to roam? and other communal rights are oftenstatutory. The Labour Government is "firmly committed to achieving our objectiveof securing greater access to open countryside", and at present encourages landowners to open up their land to the public voluntarily.10 Public access to the countryside is a natural corollary of the sustainable objective of siting more residences in dense urban situations. It has also been argued that allowing public access would be the cheapest way of monitoring and guarding against ecological abuses by landowners (just as the condition of public footpaths is presently monitored free of charge by vigilant and concerned public users).11
Public access to land may also be understood in the wider sense to include: access to the public for amenity, education and transport; access (within the bounds of what is strictly sustainable) for activities such as grazing, gleaning, fishing, and the gathering of firewood, berries, and mushrooms; and other customary, communal or usufructory rights, such as the right of travellers to stop on verges. Agenda 21?s section on Sustainable Land-Use Planning states as a prime objective ?the encouragement of communally and collectively owned and managed land?. Over the last few centuries the communal and usufructory rights of the ordinary citizen to the English countryside have been progressively eroded.12 Any project which proposes to restitute any of these rights, or which welcomes a greater element of public participation in the management of its property, is to be encouraged.
In particular, projects should: undertake to maintain all existing rights-of-way crossing the site, as is their statutory duty; guarantee that no application for the extinguishing of any rights-of-way will be made; and make assurances that applications for diversions of rights-of-way will only be entertained where the proposed diversion offers at least the same amenity and benefits to users as the original route. The enhancement of public access, for example by creating new rights-of-way or permissive paths, or by holding open days, will improve integration of the project into the local community and increase local people?s awareness of their immediate environment.
(4) The project can demonstrate how it will be integrated into the local economy and community.
The Government?s rural policy aims to ?sustain economic and social activity in rural communities? and to ?promote sustainable development by strengthening villages and market towns, protecting the open countryside, sustaining local services and moving towards a better balance between employment and housing in rural areas, thereby reducing the need to travel.13
Any project that is sited on agricultural or forestry land in the open countryside should maintain links with nearby villages and towns. Projects that are well integrated into the community will encourage the development of a sustainable local economy, by providing support for schools, local shops and public transport, and by providing local produce. A project that is unduly reliant on distant linkages (for example for its income, its schooling, or it resources) will be undermining the local economy and be heavily dependent upon transport.
Projects which are reliant upon tourism for a part of their income should be scrutinized particularly carefully. Will this tourist enterprise enhance the local economy and community life, or will it invite an elite to enjoy an area of countryside that has been made inaccessible to local people?
(5) The project can demonstrate that no activities pursued on the site shall cause undue nuisance to neighbours or the public.
The matter of public nuisance is covered by the Environmental Protection Act 1990. However the potential of a project to create a public nuisance should be examined in advance.14 When assessing the potential for public nuisance, it should be borne in mind that a considerable number of people now living in rural residences are urban refugees seeking ?peace and quiet? who do not appreciate that rural activities - even sustainable ones - can be noisy or smelly. The Environmental Protection Act (EPA) authorizes measures to suppress activities that would normally be viewed as an integral part of a sustainable rural economy, such as the keeping of noisy livestock. A project concerned to maintain low-impact would (in line with the EPA) establish in advance the ?best practicable means? for mitigating any potential nuisance from such activities.
(6) The project has prepared a strategy for the minimization of motor vehicle use.
The potential generation of traffic is often the main, and in some cases the only,objection to a proposed low-impact rural development. Agenda 21, Chapter 7, calls for the encouragement of ?development patterns that reduce transport demand? and this approach is given government sanction in PPG 13 on Transport.
The central message of PPG 13 is that: ?By planning land use and transport together in ways which enable people to carry out their everyday activities with less need to travel, local planning authorities can reduce reliance on the private car and make a significant contribution to the Government?s Sustainable Development Strategy. The implications of this policy are discussed in further detail in the section on PPG13.
In practice, it may be difficult for families or communities working or living in the countryside to find ways of limiting their car use, particularly if there are few public transport facilities nearby. However, it is by no means impossible and a number of strategies are listed in the section on car usage.
(7) The development and any buildings associated with it are appropriately sited in relation to local landscape, natural resources and settlement patterns.
PPG 7 and PPG 13 contain advice concerning the siting of new developments inrelation to agricultural land and settlement patterns, while PPG 9 (Nature Conservation) outlines Government policy in relation to designated sites. Issues which may be of particular concern include matters such as groundwater, landscape quality, existing patterns of land management and proximity to services. Local plans should set a context for decisions relating to these issues.Consistent observation of these factors might lead to a clustering of sustainable projects which could in itself be beneficial.
(8) New buildings and dwellings are not visually intrusive nor of a scale disproportionate to the site and the scale of the operation; and are constructed from materials with low embodied energy and environmental impact, and preferably from locally sourced materials, unless environmental considerations or the use of reclaimed materials determine otherwise. Reuse and conversion of existing buildings on the site is carried out as far as practicable in conformity with these criteria.
Agenda 21, Chapter 7G, Promoting Sustainable Construction Industry Activities states that all countries should encourage the use of locally available natural resources and energy-efficient designs and technologies; protect eco-sensitive zones from construction-related activities; and promote the use of labour-intensive and self-help housing methods.
PPG 1(paragraph 18) states that it is ?proper to promote or reinforce local distinctiveness . . . LPAs should not concern themselves with matters of detailed design except where such matters have a significant effect on the character or the quality of the area.? The emphasis on natural local building materials is important since they are ?easily accessible, easily accountable andeasily assimilable.": in other words, they involve low transport and energy costs, their impact can be managed at a local level, and they naturally adapt to the surrounding countryside and vernacular architecture. It is the employment of local building materials, and of the architectural solutions to structural problems associated with these materials, that has created the local distinctiveness to which the Government is committed.
Details concerning the embodied energy of various building materials are given in the section on low embodied energy.
(9) The project is reversible, insofar as new buildings can be easily dismantled and the land easily restored to its former condition.
Reversibility in the event of collapse of a project or upon its completion does not feature highly as an indicator of sustainability in international agreements or in Government guidance. However an obligation to restore land after use is a common feature in minerals applications; and a temporary three year trial period for residential developments associated with new agricultural or forestry enterprises is required by PPG7.
In practice, this criterion principally guarantees that there will be no extensive earthworks, foundations, areas of concrete, roads or other heavy infrastructure associated with a proposal which might be viewed as experimental or prove to be short-term. However there may well be elements of a project which, although they are relatively permanent, are judged to be of long-term benefit or very minimal impact to the environment or landscape -the excavation of a pond or the construction of an earth-sheltered building, for example. In such cases non-adherence to this criterion should not be taken as an indication of unsustainability.
(10) The project plans to minimize the creation of waste and to reuse and recycle as much as possible on site.
Agenda 21, Chapter 21 advocates a hierarchy of waste-management strategies which is reflected in UK Government policy.16 The priority strategy is minimization, followed by re-use, recycling and environmentally sound treatment and disposal.
Waste does not exist in nature, since what is waste to one species is food or habitat to another. A sustainable mixed farming holding operating in harmony with nature will be able to minimize waste to a high degree, since waste products, such as trash wood, whey, grey water, human and animal manure can be used elsewhere. The use of disposable plastics, such as mulch and silage wrap should be kept to a minimum.
(11) The project has a strategy for energy conservation and the reduction, over time, of dependence on non-renewable energy sources to a practical minimum.
Agenda 21, Chapter 7E states that a major objective is ?to extend the provision of more energy-efficient technology and alternative/renewable energy for human settlement?.
PPG12, on Development Plans, contains a section entitled ?Energy Conservation and Global Warming? which begins with the words, ?The conservation of energy is one key issue to which the Government has already asked local authorities to have particular regard as an issue in development plans.(paragraph 6.10). The section focuses on patterns of development as ?one way in which development plan policies need to take account of energy conservation?, but it also highlights factors such as housing type and orientation, and the use of renewable energy.
PPG22 on Renewable Energy states that authorities should include in local plans ?detailed policies for developing renewable energy sources? (paragraph 25) and cites as one of the Government?s general aims ?to prevent the unnecessary sterilization of energy resources.? (paragraph 20).
Every site in rural Britain has abundant access to the resources of wind-power and sunshine, and many have access to water-power, wood fuel or animal power. Urban houses which are totally self-sufficient in energy have been constructed in this country, so it is entirely feasible for a rural holding to generate enough renewable energy for its domestic needs, (and often for its economic needs as well). Failure to do so could be interpreted as ?an unnecessary sterilization of energy resources?.
On-site production of some forms of renewable energy may, however, take some time to establish, since the technology is relatively new and some of the equipment involved can be expensive.
Consideration should also be given to energy conservation, through measures such as insulation and energy efficiency and through a discriminating approach to mechanization in the management of the land.
(12) The project aims over time for the autonomous provision of water, energy andsewage disposal and where it is not already connected to the utilities, shall make no demands upon the existing infrastructure.
Local authorities faced with a new development are often concerned about the inadequacy of existing services and infrastructure, or are concerned that the provision of such services will have an undue environmental or economic impact. However many low-impact developments can provide all their own water, sanitation and energy on site, through the application of traditional techniques and more recent technological developments.
Autonomous services carry several advantages:
They are not a drain on
community supplies or resources;
They do not involve the provision of high impact infrastructure;
They encourage the use of renewable energy and waste minimization;
Their environmental impact can be easily assessed.17
(13) Agricultural, forestry and similar land-based activities are carried out according to sustainable principles. Preference will be given to projects which conform to registered organic standards, sustainable forestry standards or recognized permaculture principles.
It is Government policy to encourage organic farming18, and conversion to organic agriculture is supported by MAFF grants. PPG 9 (para 15) also states that, ?In some areas the maintenance of traditional agricultural practices is important for nature conservation objectives?. Conservation bodies such as the CPRE and the RSPB would like to see an increase in organic farming. But the UK still lags behind many other European countries in the proportion of land farmed organically.
Certificating bodies for the sustainable management of agricultural and forestry holdings are listed in the note on certification.
(14) The project has strategies and programmes for the ecological management of the site, including :(a) the sustainable management and improvement of soil structure; (b) the conservation and, where appropriate, the enhancement of semi-natural habitat, taking into account biodiversity, indigenous species and wildlife corridors; (c) the efficient use and reuse of water, as well as increasing the water holding capacity of the site; (d) the planting of trees and hedges, particularly in areas where the tree coverage is less than 20 per cent;
The Government is a signatory to a number of relevant international treaties, including the Biodiversity Convention drawn up at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, and has issued a wide range of publications outlining its policy on nature conservation. Many of these are listed in PPG9, Nature Conservation. The Government is also committed to doubling the tree cover in England over the next 50 years.19
PPG 9 states that ?with careful planning and control, conservation and development can be compatible?(para. 3). It also confirms the importance of locally designated areas (as distinct from statutorily designated sites), but warns that local planning authorities should ?take care to avoid unnecessary constraints on development? in such areas (para 18).
The strategies and programmes adopted by a sustainable rural project should aim not only to protect the existing habitat, but where appropriate to enhance it. These strategies will be highly site specific and should be drawn up after consultation with local experts and representatives of bodies such as the District Council, local Wildlife Trusts, the Forestry Authority etc. See list of contacts.
(15) The project can show that affordability and sustainability are secured, for example, through the involvement of a housing association, co-operative, trust, or other social body whose continuing interest in the property will ensure control over subsequent changes of ownership and occupation.
Assurance that a sustainable low-impact project will not metamorphose, over time, into an unsustainable, high impact project is not easily come by. In many ways it is a matter for planners, and this problem is more comprehensively covered in Chapter III. The establishment of some kind of trust or similar body should provide a measure of assurance, but this may not be appropriate for smaller, family-based projects.
The problem of securing sustainability will only be definitively resolved when society establishes pricing mechanisms and other incentives that make it more profitable for people to live sustainably than otherwise, but this solution is still some way away. An interim measure might be to introduce some form of certification that confers financial or other advantages upon sustainable lifestyles (analogous to certification for organically produced food), a proposal which is examined in Chapter IV.
III Three Model Local Plan Policies
Together with a Number of Model Conditions and Other Recommendations
III.1. This chapter presents three model policies covering sustainable development in the open countryside. Model Policy A covers non-residential activities that come under the heading of sustainable land-based activities. Policy B covers residential development associated with such activities. Policy C refers to affordable housing where agricultural or land-based activity is a part-time or marginal element. Each of these policies is preceded by a review of relevant Government policy. A number of model planning conditions and other measures are also presented and discussed.
III.2. These models are designed to demonstrate how policies enabling sustainable rural development in the open countryside can be integrated into the development plan framework, whilst fully conforming to current planning policy guidance. No claim is made that they are definitive. The problems involved in formulating such policies are complex; the team responsible for preparing this report has spent many hours deliberating the wording of them, and any local planning authority broaching the issue will doubtless do likewise.