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Urban Food Growing & the New London Plan

Hannah Gardiner

The new London Plan contains supportive policy for urban food growers, but how will it be implemented in practice? And could it go further? Our Head of Consultancy Hannah Gardiner shares her thoughts.

The Examination in Public of the new London Plan will open on January 15th, written statements can be submitted until January 29th for weeks 7 and 8, during which considerations will include Green Infrastructure, Green Belt and Food Growing.

The plan has set out a specific policy on food growing (G8), which includes calling on boroughs to protect existing food growing sites, space for food growing within new developments, and to identify potential sites that could be used for commercial food production. It recognises local food productions contribution to sustainability and health, and links to the recent ‘London Food Strategy‘. At Shared Assets we have no doubt about the contribution of food growing to local economic development and resilience, and it is good to see this starting to be recognised in policy.

Raised beds at The Calthorpe Project Community Garden - photo credit David Hawgood

It will be interesting, however, to see how boroughs will implement this in practice, both in their development plans and subsequent planning negotiations. How it can be ensured that sites provided for #urbangrowing are really fit for purpose, with the right utilities, light and space for composting? It may be necessary to create Supplementary Planning Guidance documents. There are existing examples from Portsmouth and Brighton which both set out important considerations for design and could be drawn upon.

Another question is how existing #urbangrowing sites can be protected when many are meanwhile uses on high-value land.

Security of tenure is a challenge for food growing endeavours, where investment in infrastructure and time can be necessary to scale up, and difficult to justify if the site is not long term. How far will local authorities go in recognising other types of value, such as social or ecological?

Where there is demand but an area is already developed, more innovative thinking may be needed to free up land for growing, such as the consideration of food growing in parks or green roofs. Each of these has its limitations, and each site will present different opportunities, the most heralded urban growing take back initiative is Incredible Edible, who grow on everything from verges to schoolyards and even graveyards, and have inspired many to follow their lead. Could you imagine walking to work and picking your salad for lunch on the way? Maintenance is the concern of many, but edible plants can also be perennial, low maintenance and look good, this is down to design.

In December the London Assembly also published a report about farming in the greenbelt, which identifies a number of opportunities such as creating a ‘grown in London’ food brand, and highlights the potential multiple benefits, such as engaging citizen dwellers in the origins of their food, and reducing transport emissions. This is not a new idea, the Aztecs created floating ‘Chinampas’ to grow food around Mexico City, however;

currently, the fields around #London are more occupied by horses than crops to feed us, although food security is back on the agenda thanks to #Brexit.

We recently convened an event on #PeriUrbanFutures in November, where proposals were made for farms linked to boroughs, and trees grown to be used in new developments. The new London Plan policy on green belt (G2) goes further than the NPPF, in specifically mentioning food growing as a beneficial function of greenbelt land. However, it stops short of making more specific recommendations, although this might be more appropriate at a borough level, and again supplementary planning guidance could support efforts both by local authorities and existing/future farmers.

Just how far away are we from a productive city? London is one of the greenest cities in the world, and in July will become one of the first national park cities, so there is plenty of high-value. Part of the problem is that we have lost the culture of food growing among a large portion of the population. Another is that a wider systems view is needed to facilitate food growing, taking into consideration how the resources flow that are needed to sustain it. This includes considering how food growing can be supported to make it a more economically viable activity, and local authorities could have a hand in this through progressive procurement policies, such as has happened in Manchester.

In late February we will continue these discussions at a workshop on peri-urban food growing, as part of the ‘urbanising in place’ research project. If you would like to be involved please get in touch

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