Amendment 228 (to Amendment 227)

Part of Agriculture Bill - Committee (6th Day) – in the House of Lords at 7:45 pm on 23rd July 2020.

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Photo of Baroness Scott of Needham Market Baroness Scott of Needham Market Liberal Democrat 7:45 pm, 23rd July 2020

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Campbell remarked that this is a wide-ranging debate and that the whole Committee stage has been. There is an inevitability about that, because our shared objective of a thriving agricultural sector delivering a range of public goods can be met only if certain foundations are in place. It is those foundations that I think are troubling many Members of your Lordships’ House. We discussed one in the previous Committee session, namely the lack of an overall food strategy.

Today we discuss another: the total absence of any kind of comprehensive land use strategy. The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, had it exactly right when he remarked about having no framework on which to balance and manage the competing demands we make of our land. In May the RSA published a report and said:

“Land use is not an aspect of policy that can be compartmentalised, parcelled away and deemed to matter only in certain places and to certain people. We all live with the choices over how land is used every day.”

The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, highlighted that this was just one of a whole number of reports and organisations doing a lot of thinking in this area.

We know that Scotland has a land use strategy, Wales has a spatial plan and Northern Ireland has a regional development strategy. It was fascinating to hear from the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, how that is used to help new entrants. On the other hand, England has no overall framework. What it has for planning is a morass of strategies, plans and initiatives, so I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and her cosignatories for tabling the amendment to set out the vision for a land use strategy that could help the Government to deliver their agriculture and forestry aspirations, as we are debating today, but also the 25-year environment plan, the 12 policy statements for critical infrastructure, and this sense of place, which is something on which the Government have based their civil society strategy. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, was quite right to highlight just what a crowded island this is, and the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, talked about the lack of coherence; he is quite right too.

Amendment 228, tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, addresses this problem of new entrants to agriculture and the difficulties they face. In some ways this links with amendments on county farms in earlier groups, because county farms were intended to do just this, but, as we have heard, are becoming rarer. That links with land use, of course, because if you are a cash-strapped council and can sell some land on the edge of town for a housing development, I am afraid you are likely to do that. It is a fact that land for agricultural purposes will struggle to compete against the land demands of housing, for example.

Finally, Amendment 228A, tabled by my noble friend Lord Greaves, would create this link with local development plans and the neighbourhood plan process. This is absolutely the right thing to do. It has seemed to me for some time—clearly the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, tends to feel the same—that in this country we are very good at development control but not very good at planning. We had some elements of it up until about 2004 in the form of county structure plans. They did not cover the whole country, but they were at least strategic. However, they often got stymied by differences with district councils, which had the development control function. County structure plans disappeared in 2004, replaced by regional development plans, which bit the dust in 2010. It seems sensible to include local planning in any provisions and thought in Amendment 227.