In September 2011, Brighton & Hove City Council became the first local authority in the UK to publish guidance notes encouraging developers to include food-growing space in new building schemes. The Food Growing & Development Planning Advisory Note (PAN) calls for rooftops, balconies, walls and surrounding land to be incorporated as landscaped areas for residents and local communities to grow their own food.
Approved in September, the guidance was developed for the Green Party-administered council by Food Matters and Harvest Brighton & Hove, part of the Brighton & Hove Food Partnership (BHFP), which is seeking to create a city-wide multi-organisation approach to developing more sustainable solutions to food production.
The PAN does not introduce any new requirements for planning applications but provides technical advice on how to deliver food-growing opportunities in development schemes and includes case studies and examples of potential approaches for use by developers.
Enclosed by the South Downs to the north and the English Channel to the south, Brighton is a compact city with little space for food-growing, which makes the PAN all the more vital, says BHFP director Vic Borrill. "We want to give people the right information about what grows well in our environment and in the context of confined spaces such as roofs and balconies," she explains.
Raising the bar
Borrill points out that as part of the city's push towards a more sustainable food system, interest in food-growing from community groups and schools has increased dramatically over the past few years and she sees the PAN as a way of raising the bar by highlighting developers' responsibilities towards sustainable living.
"We don't know what is going to happen as a result of the new national planning regulations yet, but down here the Green administration sees the planning guidance as a way of helping to embed principles and mindsets of what they want to take place in the city," she says.
Included as a case study in the guidance notes is BioRegional Quintain and Crest Nicholson's sustainable living development One Brighton. Completed in 2010, the pioneering One Planet Communities project was the first development in the city to incorporate on-site allotments in its plans.
Among a host of other sustainable-living features, the apartment roofs house 28 box gardens for residents to grow produce. With 172 apartments in the development, a waiting list has inevitably formed. But on-site green facilities manager Peter Commane says planning permission for further growing space has been secured on a neighbouring former brownfield site to help meet demand.
One of the first such schemes in the country, Commane says national and international developers are seeing real value in the idea of incorporating growing space in their plans. "The rooftop allotments have worked very well as a shop window for other developers. They see that it works, it creates a community and there is value behind it. I've no doubt we will start seeing the idea springing up across the country," he maintains.
Brighton & Hove City Council sustainability manager Francesca Iliffe says the One Brighton development chimes well with other food-growing initiatives being pioneered in the city and is an excellent example of what the new guidance is seeking to achieve.
"We have done a lot of work encouraging developers to green their sites with green walls and roofs and planting around the buildings - the guidance is part of trying to improve our overall green infrastructure," she explains.
The council hopes that the guidance will be used as a template by other local authorities around the country to encourage developers to create edible landscapes and provide growing space for residents. A number of councils, including Bristol, are already looking at the document, says Iliffe.
"Incorporating growing space needn't be a considerable additional expense because they are already putting in some kind of landscaping so it is just a question of their specifications. Of course there will be management issues, but there will be management issues with any landscaping," she asserts.
Complementing the PAN is the council's revised online Sustainability Checklist for Planning, which asks applicants for details of any food-growing elements that they intend to include in their developments. A completed checklist must now accompany all planning applications for new-build developments and conversions in the city.
Since the PAN was published, around 50 per cent of completed checklists show planning applications that incorporate food-growing space, says Iliffe. "Developers are responding well to this, which is exciting because historically it's not an area that planning has covered. But by pushing for food-growing areas you encourage community cohesion, sustainable land use, improved biodiversity - the list of benefits goes on," she adds.
The guidance has also been well received by representatives from the city's local housing partnership as well as local housing associations, she adds, many of which, in response to increased demand, already work with residents to provide food-growing space.
Federation of City Farms & Community Gardens chief executive Jeremy Iles says with waiting lists for allotments spiralling across the country since 2008, many local authorities are unable to meet demand. But the innovative approach being taken in Brighton and Hove should serve as an example to others, he adds.
"They have a great partnership between community and local authority, which I think has helped lead to the planning guidance. But there are only a few isolated examples of this kind of innovative thinking," he says.
"Community gardening has been around for a long time and it's one of the most exciting things happening in the UK right now. We need more people to start thinking laterally about what has been done traditionally."
Brighton & Hove City Council's Food Growing & Development Planning Advisory Note can be found at www.foodmatters.org.
Food strategy updated in Brighton and Hove
In 2006, Brighton and Hove became the first city in the UK to produce a food strategy - Spade to Spoon. Written by the Brighton & Hove Food Partnership (BHFP) and supported by the city council, a revised version - Spade to Spoon: Digging Deeper - will launch in the coming weeks.
It will set out how the city intends to address issue such as food poverty and the environmental impact of food imports while supporting local food businesses and creating a more sustainable food system.
As part of the strategy, the BHFP works with local organisations to encourage food-growing on vacant land, gardens, parks, housing estates and schools throughout the city.
In 2009, St Luke's Primary School applied to convert part of its playground into an edible forest to teach its pupils about food-growing techniques in an urban environment, food uses, environmental issues and sustainability in the community.
Made possible through a £10,000 grant from the Big Lottery Fund and backed by local charity Harvest Brighton & Hove, the project allows the school's 600 pupils, as well as parents and local residents, to use the forest during term time for practical training in food-growing and gardening techniques.
A 12x20m area of tarmac was replaced with a landscaped space using permaculture principles and irrigated through a rainwater-harvesting system.
The garden incorporates fruit trees, soft fruit, edible perennials with ground layers of low-growing fruits and salads along with hardier root vegetables.
It is planted in three layers to mimic natural woodland with trees at the top, shrubs and perennials in the middle and ground-cover plants at the bottom.
Regular harvesting allows the school to provide food for pupils and local residents, highlighting the success of the project.
Children and young people cabinet member for Brighton & Hove City Council Vanessa Brown says the project is an example of sustainability in action and will enable future generations to make the connection between "spade and spoon". The project will hopefully inspire pupils and residents to grow their own food, she adds.