TFA Comment: George Dunn on concerns overs some effects of lifting planning red tape

A KEY plank of the Government’s agenda for growth is the drive to remove unnecessary barriers to business encountered through the Town and Country Planning system.

Encouraging entrepreneurship and investment is as important to rural areas as it is to urban areas and tenant farmers are just as keen as anyone else involved in business to ensure that the planning system does not get in the way of sustainable business development.

However, the dilemma for tenant farmers is that a more flexible planning system not only provides opportunities for them but also for their landlords.

Most farm tenants will have agreements relating to the land which they farm which provide that their landlords are entitled to take land back for non-agricultural use when planning consent for change of use has been obtained.

The recent consultation on the National Planning Policy Framework attracted substantial media attention mostly highlighting the concerns about inappropriate development in previously protected green spaces and countryside.

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The Tenant Farmers Association was also keen to highlight the need to ensure that tenant farmers had appropriate protection from notices to quit where landlords found it easier to gain planning permission.

Similar concerns are now being expressed by the TFA in relation to the current consultation on changes to the use classes order intended to make it easier to change the use of agricultural buildings into other commercial uses.

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Whilst the TFA recognizes the need to ensure that the rural economy can contribute to much-needed growth in the wider economy this must not be at the expense of the livelihoods of tenant farmers who should continue to be protected from eviction from land or buildings which could be central to the farm businesses.

Happily, there is currently case law which underpins the farm tenant’s ability to object to a landlord’s application for change of use on the grounds of the impact on the tenant’s personal circumstances and for this to be treated as a material consideration by planning departments.

However, the TFA would argue that such protection needs to be clearly set out either in legislation or in statutory guidance.

Where a tenant farmer is forced to give up land to development partway through an existing tenancy agreement, the compensation received by the tenant farmer is usually insufficient to cover the losses incurred.

Tenants on traditional agricultural tenancies can expect to receive a sum equivalent to five or six times the rent passing for the land taken for development.

Tenants on more recent Farm Business Tenancies are often left in the position of having no compensation at all. The TFA believes that tenant farmers who lose land to development must be compensated for the real losses that they suffer as a result.

Such compensation might include alternative land or buildings and it is the case that some estates, through good estate management, are able to provide such opportunities.

However, where landlords are able to obtain significant financial rewards from the development of agricultural land they should not be able to get away with evicting tenants without proper compensation.

: : George Dunn is chief executive of the Tenant Farmers’ Association.

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