Blair urged to build on the best farmland

A A A

Houses should be built on England's best farmland and protected areas to provide "rural diversity", says a leaked Cabinet Office report commissioned by the Prime Minister.

Houses should be built on England's best farmland and protected areas to provide "rural diversity", says a leaked Cabinet Office report commissioned by the Prime Minister.

The study from the Cabinet Office's Performance and Innovation Unit says the need to safeguard the best agricultural land - roughly one-third of England's farm area - to ensure the nation's food security is no longer relevant because of liberalised international trade.

Research from the Friends of the Earth (FoE) shows more than 140,000 houses will have to be built in areas now barred from development by government policies, unless John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, rejects official planning advice to build 1.1 million houses in south-east England by 2016.

Protected sites at risk include Green Belts, Areas of County Importance for Landscape, Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation, Country Parks and Regional Parks, Conservation Areas, Areas at Flood Risk, areas distant from public transport, and the prime agricultural land.

The need for housing is most acute in four counties in the South-east, according to FoE, where it would be impossible to build all the houses called for by the planning advisers without violating government guidelines. These are Hampshire, with 40,000 too many houses, Hertfordshire and Surrey, each with 37,700 too many, and Bedfordshire, with 21,900 too many.

Buckinghamshire officials say the proposals "beggar belief", Bedfordshire's describe them as "totally unrealistic", Surrey's say they are "sheer madness"and Hampshire's are "surprised and dismayed".

Farm and environment groups are against opening the best land to development, but the Country Landowners Association welcomed the "increased freedom" its members would enjoy.

The Cabinet Office report also says the Exchequer should get a share of the increase in land value that comes with planning permission, perhaps by imposing full-rate VAT on new homes. Local authority planners would control new agricultural buildings, now exempt.

Another idea is to set up environmental taxes, such as a pesticide tax, and car tolls in tourist areas. The funds could help to develop the rural economy on sustainable lines, with money from, say, the EU Common Agriculture Policy.

Additional short-term help should be given to organic growers, and hill farmers who look after many of England's finest upland landscapes. Farmers would be encouraged to produce high-quality regional foods under the EU's protected food name scheme, selling directly to consumers in farmers' markets. "Car clubs" to improve rural mobility without generating more traffic should also be stimulated.

Some proposals are expected in the Rural White Paper next spring. Other measures are being considered under the Treasury's spending review.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine