Land is the key
What does the future hold for farming and smallholding in Britain? Quite apart from the uncertainty surrounding Brexit, and the threat from diseases such as bird flu and African swine fever, there are two other key issues: attracting young people into farming, and making land available at a reasonable price. The last two are connected of course. There are surely thousands of wannabe smallholders who would love to get started, but simply can’t afford to buy any land. One novel idea has been put forward by the Ecological Land Co-op, which has already established several low-cost smallholdings. It has appealed to farmers to donate small parcels of land to create clusters of affordable smallholdings ( see page 90).
It is very clear that farming is crying out for young recruits. According to recent DEFRA figures, the average age of farmers in Britain is now 59. Just 13 per cent are under the age of 45. That is a shocking statistic, and radical proposals are needed to address the situation.
As regards the price of agricultural land, that seems to climb ever higher. One factor here is that speculators buy up land. Once it has planning permission for development, the value increases dramatically. One novel plan to break this cycle is to create a Sovereign Land Trust to provide land for cheap housing and issue compulsory purchase orders if necessary
A further issue is that of education. So many schoolchildren, especially in cities, seem woefully ignorant of the basics of farming. Interestingly, one MP has recently proposed that there should be a GCSE in agriculture. This would at least help some young people on the road to a future in farming, especially if action is taken to find them some affordable land to get started! How about it, Mr Gove and colleagues?
Developers could be forced to sell land to the state more cheaply under radical plans being considered by Labour.
The party is examining proposals to ban housing firms from hiking the price of land once it has planning permission.
A Labour government could create an English Sovereign Land Trust, which would have the power to issue compulsory purchase orders that force owners of larger, undeveloped agricultural and industrial land to sell sites at their preplanning permission value.
The party looked at research showing the price of land can soar from £ 21,000 to £ 2.1million a hectare if it switched from farming to residential use.
Labour says the scheme could pour funds into cheaper housing, “rather than letting private landowners benefit from this windfall gain – and making everyone else pay for it”.
The Country Land and Business Association said: “The best way to tackle the housing crisis is to remove the massive barriers that still stand in the way of private landowners who want to invest in providing, usually small, housing schemes in rural areas. These include uncertainties of navigating the chaotic and underresourced planning system and a penal tax system that too often disincentives positive investment. Compulsory purchase of land should only ever be a last resort and in practice it is far more likely to be small family farms that suffer.” * The Ecological Land Co-op has appealed for land donations: see page 90