Tuesday February 23rd 2016
Photograph courtesy of Damhead Community
Over 120 people from across the Lothians, Borders and Fife gathered at the weekend to save their local farm from development. Many of the people gathering in Damhead had already signed the Save Jims Farm: Object to the development of Pentland Studios on agricultural land at Straiton Petition along with 2,316 others.
Nine speakers stood on the temporary hay bale platform to address the crowd about what is at stake if the last working farm in Damhead were to disappear under concrete as a result of a range of development proposals including the Pentland Studios proposal.
Great concern was expressed for the huge loss of prime agricultural land, the complete loss of vital and limited top quality soils, the end of a 100 year farming family’s legacy, the lack of planning democracy and the undermining of the local community vision for maintaining land based livelihoods and encouraging the local food economy.
Mary Begbie, daughter of farmer Jim Telfer, stood with her father Jim, who faces eviction, along with their entire family on the stage and stated “this has been an emotional rollercoaster – looking after a family, holding full time jobs and learning to fight planning applications, every night going through the documents of the very highest complexity. They are professionals they know what they are doing and we are always 5 steps behind in the current planning system. There is a land holder in situ here and my father has no intention of moving. As a family we will be taking the farm on. It has been mentioned in the press and by those in favour of this development that my father, Jim Telfer is an old man and he has no succession. He has. We are here.”
The local community has spent two years creating its own vision of how it would like to see the area grow. This vision is the heart of their Neighbourhood Action Plan which has been endorsed by Midlothian Community Planning Partnership a positive and long term expression of community aspiration and ambition. However, in absolute contradiction to this, the developers from outside the area have a different vision, one which completely ignores and disrespects that of the local community, the farmer and his family.
Heather Anderson from Whitmuir Organic Farm speaking at the event stated, “This farm illustrates exactly the dilemma that farming in Scotland is facing. Soil is endangered so therefore the source of our food supply is endangered and farming is endangered. In Scotland only 8% of the land mass of Scotland is capable of growing crops. And some of that small percentage is on this very farm. The way we use this land is critically important. So there is absolutely no way for Scotland to feed its own people and become food sustainable if we do not keep its arable land in food production, because we have very little of it. We cannot afford to pour concrete on our arable land. If we do not manage our land and we do not protect our soils we will not be able to grow food. This is one of the most valuable resources in Scotland; we have got to protect all the arable soil we have got. We cannot afford to loose it. In Scotland farmers are 1.5% of the total work force – a tiny number. We have a depleting number of farmers nationally and this is a major problem if we are to be food sustainable.”
Julian Holbrook, Damhead and District Community Councillor called for action to maintain and encourage local and sustainable food systems that provide livelihoods and jobs linked to the land and community. “This is about land, food and people. What we need to see is a collective action to establish the Edinburgh Food Belt that links farmers, community, consumers and the food and drinks sector. However, it is essential to protect the foundation of existing good quality farmland and existing farmers to see this ambitious and exciting idea established.”
Rurigdh McMeddes from Planning Democracy said, “Today we have over one hundred people standing here because they care about local planning. The planning system that we have should see this and represent that. The planning system very often pits communities against the developers and creates a confrontational atmosphere where the supposed local polices and the community developed policies are ignored in the face of spurious economic claims. We need real changes in the planning system to address the imbalances and in key the rights of appeal. Today, if a developer applies for planning permission and is refused, they will automatically always have the right to appeal that decision to the reporter. If however a developer applies for planning permission and is approved, no one else has the right to appeal even if you are going to be evicted from your homes because of that decision. No matter what ground you might have there is absolutely no right to appeal that decision. We need to establish an equal right of appeal in Scotland to address this very clear and striking injustice.”
Nick Underdown also of Planning Democracy added “This is a fundamental imbalance in our planning system and has got to change. Planning Democracy held a conference last year and there was a representative from a community from every single local authority in Scotland. This demonstrated just how much traction and community will there is to readdress some of the problems that we see in the planning system.”
Marion Williams, Director of The Cockburn Association called for the need for communities to work together saying this is a national situation and what is happening in Damhead represent the huge pressure on our green land right across the country. Saying “we have been encouraged to have community plans, encouraged by endless consultation to make our opinions known. More and more people are engaging with that and more and more we feel disappointed that we are ignored. It is Greenbelt. It is protected. Every single policy says you shouldn’t build here. A reporter may come and say the economic benefit of the development outweighs all other policies. We’ve got to make it clear that sustainable economic development – what has become the word and expression that all politicians use, has to be used responsibly. Because, at the moment it is not. We have got to stand together now to let those people that we elect to represent us do the right thing”
Pete Ritchie from Nourish Scotland said “What is happening globally, that more and more money is shifting towards rent from labour, is huge. The fundamental problem that we have to work with is that if we see land as a form of speculation and something that we can make development gain from it, then these processes will always happen. There will always be pressures for people to make unearned gains out of land. Fundamentally what we need to do in Scotland – we need to change the way that we attribute development gain and the way we tax and value land. It needs to become less desirable to sell agricultural land for housing and development and it has got to become more desirable to continue farming and working the land by having local food economies. We need to change the way we think about land. Nourish Scotland is committed to keeping farming going in Scotland, to grow more of what we eat and to eat more of what we grow. This is a very important test case of can we keep doing that. Unfortunately we weren’t able to keep Andrew Stoddard on his farm in East Lothian, and as some know a tenant farmer before that who was evicted committed suicide, because loosing your farm is such a traumatic issue. So it is really important that with this third case, that we actually win this one.”
Nathalie Holbrook, environmental artist and photographer who is coordinating the campaign and petition concluded by saying “Our community, like other communities have gone through the extensive planning process, but feel our voice is not being listened to. What we need now is to work to ensure our aspirations to design better local futures are heard and represented and to get the support of our elected representatives in Parliament and Midlothian Council. We need to ensure that the community voice is heard louder than the interests of private developers who often have no link to the land and the local community. We are not saying no to investment in the arts and this studio but we are adamant that the cost of developing this site here at Damhead is too high.”
In December 2015 Scottish Government called in the proposals for the film studio complex to be decided by Alex Neil, Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Communities and Pensioners. A decision will be made by the 21 April 2016 as to whether this site at Damhead, Old Pentland is an appropriate location for this development. The complex includes a series of massive studio buildings, a hotel, a film school, a power station, the UKs largest data centre with a microwave dish, backlots for set building, equipment, and storage as well as 600 car parking spaces. In all 86 acres, mostly on prime agricultural land (grade 2 and 3). There are serious concerns about the inconsistencies, the lack of adequate information and transparency over the proposals.
Green MSP Alison Johnstone who attended the previous Damhead gathering, was unable to attend but sent a statement of support which was read out by local Green candidate Daya Feldwick:
“Congratulations to all who have turned out once more to Save Damhead’s Greenbelt, to ensure that the community’s voice is heard in the decisions that will profoundly affect this community and beyond.
You are joined today by many fantastic campaigning organisations, people not only with passion, but with experience too and expertise.
I believe that our Greenbelt was given this designation for a reason, and that we must resist attempts to ride a coach and horses through planning guidelines. Lothian has a growing population. Surely we should all be considered about making sure that it’s a resilient population, one that strives to grow at least some of its own food?
Why should our Greenbelt go to the highest bidder? Imaginative, creative ideas, that make real sense, like a Foodbelt, are being suggested and deserve serious consideration and support.
I know you will leave today feeling well supported and inspired. I’m sorry that I can’t be with you today but assure you of my wholehearted support as we work together to Save Damhead.”
The petition to save Jim’s farm can be found HERE.
Photograph courtesy of Damhead CommunityTweet Share on Facebook