My word is my bond?
Removal of Agricultural occupancy conditions
Agricultural occupancy conditions, know as AOC’s, affect a great number of properties in rural areas. They have the effect of restricting the occupation of a dwelling to agricultural or forestry workers and their families.
AOC’s are imposed by Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) when they grant permission for a dwelling on a site where residential development would not normally be permitted. Whilst they are useful in facilitating such development they can prove problematic when the time comes to sell the property. In particular the AOC will reduce the range of potential lawful occupiers of the property and in turn reduce its market value.
To remove an AOC the owner can make an application to the Council under section 73 of the Town and Country planning Act 1990. Alternatively it may sometimes be possible to demonstrate that the AOC has been breached continuously for a period of ten years through occupation by a person who does not meet the occupancy criteria. This can make the breach immune from planning enforcement action. However it does not remove the AOC and this can only be achieved through a s.73 application.
LPAs often refuse such applications, in which case necessary to appeal to the Secretary of State. In a case which will give hope to owners in similar situations a Planning Inspector appointed by the Secretary of State has recently allowed such an appeal.
In September 2017 South Gloucestershire Council refused a s.73 application. Their policy stated that they would only permit the removal of an AOC where:
it can be demonstrated there is no existing or foreseeable need on the unit or in the locality, and there has been an independent market assessment following an unsuccessful attempt to market the property at a realistic price.
The realistic price should reflect the fact that the AOC exists and usually results in a discount of around 25% on what would be the case without the AOC. The appellant marketed the bungalow together with 9 acres of land for over twelve months with an asking price of £1.1m. No offers were made and only three viewings were generated. The majority of interest had come from people that did not meet the AOC criteria.
The Council queried the appropriateness of including the 9 acres of land with the dwelling and the Inspector accepted that this had inflated the asking price which raised questions regarding the robustness of the marketing exercise. He also considered that the discount applied to take account of the AOC, which was between 12% and 22%, was lower than the generally accepted level.
However, the Council accepted that, even without the nine acres of land, the property was likely to be too expensive for most rural workers.
In July 2018 the Inspector issued his decision letter. In it he concluded that the lack of interest in purchasing the property was more likely to reflect a lack of demand for this type of dwelling rather than the inflated price or low level of discount applied. He therefore granted the appeal and removed the AOC.
This case was a victory for the applicant and gives hope to those seeking the removal of AOC’s. Nevertheless, it also emphasises the importance of carrying out an effective marketing exercise and of ensuring that the asking price and discount applied are realistic.
This article was first published in the August edition of South East Farmer.
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