Concerns over trade in farmland

LANDSCAPE watchdogs are concerned over a trade in farmland which is leading to fields being split into small plots and sold to all comers.Several tracts of land in East Anglia have already been purchased by companies which divide them up and sell to individuals, often at a large overall profit.

LANDSCAPE watchdogs are concerned over a trade in farmland which is leading to fields being split into small plots and sold to all comers.

Several tracts of land in East Anglia have already been purchased by companies which divide them up and sell to individuals, often at a large overall profit.

But landscape watchdogs say the practice could lead to an ugly plethora of fences, sheds and caravans in the countryside or sheer neglect.

About 44 acres of arable land at Dickleburgh, near Diss, has recently been purchased for nearly £3,000 an acre and is being offered for sale divided into 186 plots at prices equivalent to £17,000 an acre – about six times the market value for agricultural land.


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About 20 plots in a 10-acre field at Lower Raydon, near Hadleigh, are being offered at the equivalent of £14,000 an acre and 50 acres of land at Stisted, within a designated Special Landscape Area near Braintree, has been divided into 234 individual plots.

About six companies in Britain are now buying and selling farmland in this way, their internet websites often hinting that potential buyers could one day obtain planning permission to build a home on the plots.

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However, the prices being asked are still well below the rates which could be demanded for land with building approval.

One firm, Gladwish Land Sales, of Horsham, Sussex has been ordered by the Office of Fair Trading to remove a statement on its website suggesting that people will be deemed "unethical" if they approach local planning departments about development potential before completing the sale.

The firm's acquisitions include the farmland at Dickleburgh and Lower Raydon.

Victor Gladwish, proprietor, said all the firm's land was sold at "agricultural prices" on a supply and demand basis.

"If it was being sold at development prices then the sums being asked would be dramatically higher," he said.

However, Mr Gladwish, 58 and a multi-millionaire as a result of his business dealings, said demand for housing was increasing all over the country and the boundaries of development zones did change over the years.

"It might be that one day some of these plots will get permission for development but we are not selling them as building plots – the prices reflect this. People use them for allotments and for keeping horses and other livestock but they are also an investment," he added.

Julie Stainton, planning spokesman for the Council for the Protection of Rural England, said problems caused by the division of farmland into individually owned plots had been reported from all over the country.

"It can sometimes look like the Somme with barbed wire and fence posts appearing in very scenic areas," she said.

A spokesman for CPRE's Essex branch said the "plotland" sales were causing concern.

"In the past, such developments in other parts of the county have led to a network of dirt tracks, some laid with hardcore, fences, other boundaries, sheds, animal shelters and caravans," he said.

Russell "Rusty" Webster, the farmer who sold the Dickleburgh land to Gladwish, said he had been under the impression the land was to be used for grazing horses.

"I am as disappointed as my neighbours about what has happened," he said.

He claimed some of his neighbours had bought plots of the field adjoining their own land to ensure they did not become an eyesore.

david.green@eadt.co.uk

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