Farming opinion: Retiring farmers ‘will need new homes post-Brexit’

Retiring farmers need homes, says CLA East's Ben Underwood. Picture: LUCY TAYLOR

Retiring farmers need homes, says CLA East's Ben Underwood. Picture: LUCY TAYLOR

For families forced to cease farming or seeking a way to retire and enable the next generation to take on the farm business, access to housing is crucial, argues Country Land and Business Association (CLA) East regional director Ben Underwood

Country Land and Business Association (CLA) East regional director Ben Underwood.

Country Land and Business Association (CLA) East regional director Ben Underwood. - Credit: Archant

The CLA is lobbying for a change to the planning framework to support the housing needs of retiring farmers.

In the UK, families are responsible for most farms and much of the farmed land. A recent survey of six areas of England found that 84% of the operating farms were established family farms.

As we all know, farming has an ageing population. In the UK around a third of all farm holders were over the typical retirement age of 65 years, while the proportion younger than 35 years was around 3%.

In contrast to many other professions, farming remains a largely inherited occupation. The transfer of business control and ownership to the next generation is one of the most critical stages in the development of the business. Succession and retirement can put financial and emotional stress on farm households and can have a sizeable impact on the business.

Research shows that farm business performance and development can be both positively and negatively influenced by succession. Succession is important for both the social and economic sustainability of the family farm and the economy and community in which it operates.

We know that succession is something that is important to our members. Based on their feedback we know that 38% of members are undertaking some kind of succession planning as part of their preparation for Britain leaving the European Union. Various organisations and Government commissioned papers have raised concerns regarding the future accommodation needs of farming families.

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For families forced to cease farming or seeking a way to retire and enable the next generation to take on the farm business, access to housing is crucial. While there are other important behavioural and economic reasons contributing to challenges of succession, housing policies do exist in other home nation countries that target this specific issue.

The Government has recently published a consultation on the draft revised text of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and it contains a number of changes that will see increased opportunities for building much needed homes for rural communities and create opportunities for business growth and change.

In this announcement the Government has backed our call for flexibility to allow the building of new homes within existing farms to help the next generation into the industry. This is an issue the CLA has undertaken significant lobbying on.

The draft text contains a new exception from the blanket restriction that prohibits building new homes in the open countryside for those taking on majority control of a farm business.

This provides a strong steer to Local Planning Authorities that they should view these applications favourably.

The Government has recognised this simple change will help to smooth the notoriously difficult process of farm succession in time for an expected increase in retirement driven by Brexit.