Excerpt from the West Sussex Gazette Newspaper column last week;
Farm Businesses learn too
late about modern planning.
By Gwyn Jones
In the afternoon we had a fascinating session on planning, expanding your business, and PR within the community.
We were given a good introduction to getting the planning right by Nuffield Scholar Amy Jackson who has travelled the world to see how farmers and businesses have used structure, plans and PR to successfully expanded their businesses, taking the community with them as they grow.
Many farming business in dairy, chickens, beef, anaerobic digestion and even glass-houses have come to realise of late how powerful opposition to their plans can be if organised and with the aid of the internet and social media.
She told us how ‘retrospective planning’ is not the certainty it used to be, and there are several farmers and businesses who are now facing the prospect of dismantling the dairy buildings and all the infrastructure put up without planning permission being in place.
Other businesses across the country other than dairy farming are also facing the prospect of paying the ultimate price of gambling that planning would be awarded if they went ahead and attempted to rail-road the community and planners.
There is little local resistance when the business is relatively small and fits into the community, or where a larger business is well run and causes little or no issue for local people; fitting into the local environment without problem. If the proposed expansion is on a larger scale, or if it is likely to affect the community in some way, then the task is much bigger and careful planning and communication is essential. Farmers or businesses which are well established have less difficulty than new or comparatively new businesses where farmers or operators are not so well known.
The first question to ask is ‘Does your community understand your business and motivation and aims for the future’? ‘Are you taking them with you’? There is a responsibility on individuals and businesses not to bring their sector into disrepute by their actions.
Welfare is a good example of where people will organise themselves and call in outside groups, should they think that the new development will in any way compromise animal welfare.
Traffic is another, any points which are made about carbon foot-print, government policy or anything of that nature go out of the window if the community think that your development is not right for the area, affect their rural way of life or if they don’t like what you are doing.
Frazer Jones who has successfully obtained full planning after four years for his new large scale dairy at Welshpool in Wales had important messages. It’s important to think of the image your business conveys, it’s essential to have a good local profile and good local relationships for the future.
Honesty, openness and respect are hugely important. Constructive debate and conversation is a vital part of proceedings as the general public have a huge appetite for knowledge and information, a fear of the unknown and gossip is a dangerous roller-coaster. The other choice the general public have in the face of lack of information is to educate themselves and could end up knowing more about your industry than you do!
Abuse of your position will lead to extremist views taking hold, celebrities joining in, animal welfare groups strengthening the hand of the ‘un-changeable’! Well-funded, organised action groups will take you through all the hoops and on to a public enquiry. You will be rich and lucky to survive.
There is a need to be professional, especially if you expect to be treated as a professional yourself; you need to be inviting, approachable, not intimidating but positive about what you want to do and proud, sell the story, persuade people and take them with you. Involve the community and public, make them and their opinions feel valued.
The stereotypical ‘Get off my land’ approach does not work. The public are very quick to see a ‘smoke-screen’; a scam. In the end it’s about trust and personal integrity. Treat the environment as an investment, show people you care were his wise words.