InsightsInsight - Agriculture and Rural - POSTED: January 29 2014
Call to farms: buying and developing agricultural land for residential use
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Communities Secretary Eric Pickles announced this week that the Government remains committed to two new Garden Cities in the South East. Pickles has denied that any decisions around the cities’ locations have been made, though both Yalding in Kent and Gerrards Cross in Buckinghamshire are rumoured to have been earmarked. The creation of places where people would both live and work is central to the ideal of Garden Cities. These communities would be a positive alternative to the options of increasing chaotic and unmanaged “urban sprawl” or an expansion of the commuter belt around major towns and cities.
Does this announcement herald the beginning of a change in government policy towards farm land? That remains to be seen. Whilst it may be virtually impossible to obtain planning permission to develop farm land in our National Parks, there are swathes of other farm land where obtaining planning permission may become more straightforward if this change in attitude from Central Government finds its way into national planning policy.
Farm land can be particularly ripe for development for a number of different reasons. This type of land has generally suffered no pollution caused by prior development, meaning fewer legacy and ongoing environmental issues and a smaller financial outlay. Moreover, immediate redevelopment with minimum remediation would be possible as the land’s geology is less likely to have been disturbed by previous building. The developer will probably not need to demolish existing buildings, or decommission any plant and machinery.
It is commonly assumed that farm land is prone to being inhabited by rare species which need to be dealt with at cost and causing delay.
In fact, the impact of protected species preventing or restricting development can be reduced due to ploughing or animals grazing.
Vacant disused brownfield sites may be more problematic as they can attract protected species.
Farm land is generally located on the outskirts of urban areas, making it highly marketable, and desirable to the ultimate occupiers, attracted by a combination of proximity to both stunning countryside and local amenities.
Farm land provides significant cost benefits for developers. The government’s need to increase housing supply will need to be translated quickly and effectively to the local level, and could result in tangible ground-level changes to local policy and development control decisions. Whilst demand for housing continues to outstrip supply, the coming months could provide interesting opportunities for the South East’s farming communities.
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