So today I was in Westminster Hall for a debate on Human Rights in North Korea (in my capacity as shadow FCO Minister) and being somewhat slow to leave at the end, I then realised that the next debate was about local plans and safeguarded land… Seizing the opportunity to ask the Planning Minister about protection for agricultural land and Bristol’s Blue Finger, I stayed on, in the hope of making a brief intervention. Here’s what was said:
Me: I want to ask the Minister about the best and most versatile agricultural land being specifically singled out for extra protection. We have a big issue in Bristol with the plans to tarmac over grade 1 agricultural land. Is it not important that we protect the best soil for growing food, rather than use it for other purposes? It simply cannot be replaced elsewhere.
Nick Boles, the Planning Minister: The hon. Lady has singled out another category of land where the preservation of current use is given great priority—the highest quality agricultural land. The national planning policy framework is clear that, to the extent that greenfield land has to be allocated for development—unfortunately, some does—less high quality agricultural land should be preferred and that grade 1 agricultural land, which is the highest quality, should be preserved for agriculture where at all possible.
I tweeted earlier that he’d said ‘unless absolutely necessary’ rather than ‘where at all possible’. The above is from Hansard, so I obviously misremembered. The Minister then went on to say, re the green belt:
“…the local authority has to pass a very high test: it has to be able to demonstrate that exceptional circumstances justify taking a particular site out of the green belt or redrawing a green-belt boundary, perhaps to swap land currently in the green belt for land that is not, but is of greater environmental importance. Those are the kinds of arguments that local authorities need to bring forward and the kinds of evidence they need to provide to satisfy a planning inspector that any such proposal is reasonable.”
The link to the full debate is here.