Farming and the Law: David Rayner on the effects of changes in planning and energy

PERHAPS the most significant issue facing rural communities in the East of England is the fact that we are sitting on “Grade 1” agricultural land yet have significant demands for renewable energy installations and one of the highest levels of housing demand in the country, combined with many areas within a high flood-risk zone.

With the abolition of regional spatial strategies in 2010, we need “joined-up thinking” to determine the best land use for the long term interest and what investment should be made to ensure adequate food security and proper flood defence. The jury is still out as to whether the “duty to co-operate” under the Localism Act will ensure that councils adopt this joined-up approach and whether they, planners and developers will take account of all social, economic and environmental challenges.

The Government appears to be relaxing restrictions on greenbelt development. It seems likely, therefore, that sensible, limited encroachment on to greenbelt will occur. Those involved with farming are considering future land use. This not only examines options other than food production – such as renewable energy – but also considers food types that might be being produced in the future.

Rising prices, growing populations and environmental concerns are causing governments to worry about food production. Food futurologists even suggest that insects – or mini-livestock as they call them – could become a staple diet!

More immediate and realistic considerations revolve around renewable energy supplies. Despite a knee-jerk reaction to the Feed-in Tariffs reduction, many now accept that well thought out schemes can generate good incomes.

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At Birkett Long we have a number of solar panel companies negotiating with clients. Considerations include equipment costs, levels of electricity generated, Feed-in Tariffs, costs of connection to the grid and lease terms; but well advised rural businesses are finding Solar PV can be a sensible part of their business plan.

Other renewable energy schemes include ground source heat systems, combined heat and power systems, water source heat pumps, biomass heating systems, anaerobic digestion systems and wind turbines. Anyone entering into renewables must consider all alternatives and which will give best results.

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Residential developers are re-building land banks and seeking opportunities in the planning system to meet housing targets. Complex option agreements and overage and claw-back arrangements can ensure that maximum value is obtained for your land.

: : David Rayner is head of the Environment and Energy group at law firm Birkett Long

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