Don’t let your diversification ambitions be thwarted by a farm land restriction
Many farmers have struggled in the recent past, largely due to the combined effects of Brexit and Covid-19. It’s no wonder, then, that many are looking to use their land in different ways to boost their dwindling profits.
There are many ways you can diversify your farmland, but as Philip Taylor, Farm Law Specialist at Pearsons & Ward Solicitors in Malton explains, before embarking on any diversification project, you need to make sure your ambitions are not thwarted by a restriction on change of use.
If you are considering selling a home on your land that has an agricultural bond (or agricultural occupancy condition), this may make the property more difficult to sell.
Under the Town and Country Planning Act 1971, such ties generally require that “occupancy of the property be limited to a person solely or principally employed, or last employed, in the locality in agriculture…or in forestry (including dependents of such a person residing with him) or a widow or widower of such a person”.
You can respect the connection if your potential buyer has worked in agriculture before or was married to someone who was. If this does not apply you can have the bond lifted by your local council if you can prove that no one using the property has worked in agriculture for the past 10 years.
Failing this, you can get the bond lifted if you can prove that there is no longer any requirement for agricultural work on the premises and that there have been no potential buyers over an agreed period of time. with the municipality.
Finally, you can ask the council to accept another use to fill the link, such as changing it from agricultural use to equestrian use.
Conditionality and Environmental Impact Assessments
If you apply for grants such as the Basic Payment Scheme (RPB) or a Stewardship Scheme, you must comply with the conditionality rules.
Cross-compliance requires you to take measures to protect public, animal and plant health, promote biodiversity, protect borders, minimize the risk of water, soil and land pollution, ensure animals are properly registered and that the production of food for human consumption is safe.
You may also need to apply for an environmental impact assessment review or consent decision, as part of conditionality, to change rural land use.
The Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2017 are designed to protect rural uncultivated or semi-natural land from changes which could cause damage by increasing productivity or altering field boundaries.
You must apply to Natural England for a screening decision if you propose to affect uncultivated or semi-natural land by disturbing the surface or subsoil of the soil; increase the use of fertilizers; sowing seeds that will increase grassland productivity; draining land; clearing existing vegetation on a certain area of land; or increasing stock density.
Natural England’s selection decision will determine whether your proposal is likely to have a significant effect on the environment. You will need a ‘consent decision’, to carry out work if this is the case.
You will often need planning permission if you want to change the use of your farmland, but some building projects have permitted development rights which allow for quicker and easier change of use.
If your farm has an area of five hectares or more, you can erect, extend or modify a building or carry out excavations and engineering work necessary for agricultural purposes without obtaining a planning permit.
Types of development permitted include: temporary land uses; agricultural buildings below a certain size; forestry buildings; caravan sites and related buildings in certain circumstances.
If you then wish to change the use of an agricultural building to residential or commercial use, you can do so without a building permit as long as certain conditions are met and limitations are observed. Any such development will generally require you to seek prior approval from your planning authority.
Building permits and protected species
The presence of protected species, such as vipers, badgers, crested newts, bats, otters or common lizards, on your property could affect your application for a change of use or development of your property.
If there is evidence or a reasonable likelihood of a protected species or priority habitat at the site you wish to develop, you must submit an ecological assessment with your development application.
If they are present, planning permission is only likely to be granted if any detrimental effect on them can be avoided, mitigated or offset.
For more information on farmland restrictions please contact Philip Taylor on Malton 01653 692247 email [email protected] to see how we can help.