Crops in a field

Helping London's Green Belt farms to prosper

Date published: 
10 December 2018

Key facts

  • The Green Belt covers areas around the fringes of Greater London (about 22 per cent of Greater London’s area) and a much greater area of the neighbouring counties.
  • There are more than 200 farms in Greater London, covering between them about 11,000 hectares—about a third of Greater London’s Green Belt area. 
  • London’s average farm size is 53 hectares—smaller than the English average of 86 hectares. There are arable, horticulture, grazing and mixed farms. 
  • Agriculture employs around 3,000 people in London.
  • The Green Belt is protected from development by London and national planning policy.

Key findings

  • London’s Green Belt brings a wide range of environmental benefits, from absorbing air pollution to providing a habitat for wildlife.
  • Farming, in particular, can bring its own benefits, such as healthy local and seasonal food, renewable energy, and connection to nature.
  • Farmland can be at risk of loss from building over; Green Belt designation is important as the strongest protection.
  • Farmers need sufficiently secure and long-term tenure of land, especially if they are to invest in sustainability.
  • Selling food as local, sustainable and healthy can help farmers get a better price for it; so can selling more directly to the consumer.
  • Brexit may offer both challenges and opportunities. One opportunity may be to reform farm support to encourage more sustainable farming and to help smaller farmers.
  • Some types of farming offer extra sustainability benefits, including reducing chemical use, providing trees and hedgerows, generating renewable energy, and enabling city dwellers some access to the land.

What they said

  • ‘Farming delivers so much more than food.’ Sustain
  • ‘It is absolutely critical that people understand where their food comes from.’ Surrey County Agricultural Society
  • 'We are losing parts of our green belt that are viable agricultural land to development.' Forty Hall Farm
  • ‘Security of tenure is key to how you manage the land and how you can develop as a business.’ Sutton Community Farm
  • ‘If you are restoring a hedgerow, it is going to take you at least ten years to do that well. These are not things that you can do in the landscape quickly.’ Forty Hall Farm

Recommendations

  • The Mayor should explore, with London Councils, outer London local authorities or other collaborators, the potential to operate an accessible database of agricultural land ownership and availability. This work could also promote model leases or other tools to help farmers get and retain land tenure without excessive costs.
  • The Mayor should explore the potential to support a ‘grown in London’ food brand to enable London consumers to recognise local food. The Mayor should also seek to increase the proportion of London-grown food served in GLA Group facilities.
  • The Government should make, and the Mayor should seek, improvements to the Agriculture Bill. These could include measures to increase the focus on outcomes that work for London and Londoners, such as environmental goods and sustainable farming methods, the production of healthy food, and a sustainable food economy. Specifically, the Bill should include a duty, rather than just a power, for the Secretary of State to promote the benefits in Clause 1 of the Bill (such as protecting the environment and public access to the countryside) and also a duty to promote public health, and a duty to deliver a Fair Dealing code of practice under Clause 25.
  • When reviewing water companies’ water resources management plans, the Mayor should examine how well they address the expected water needs of farms.
  • In his food policy, London Plan and other work, the Mayor should look for opportunities, such as those outlined in this report, to support and promote farming methods that maximise environmental and social benefits and support his other policy goals. For example, the GLA could support farms wishing to diversify into energy, as it does with homes, businesses and community buildings.

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