Selling agricultural land for housing development

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The housing shortage means developers will pay good money for suitable farm land, while government policy is enabling more planning refusals to be overturned on appeal. Julie Liddle, a director of Robson & Liddle, outlines the options for farmers selling agricultural land for housing.

The importance of taking stock

Agricultural land near urban and suburban areas is commanding considerable price premiums from property developers; considerable, that is, in the context of the agricultural value of the land.

Land with planning permission is not as valuable as it was only ten years ago before the economic downturn, but remains the most prolific form of income from land. However, do not underestimate the difficulties in achieving permission. The process can be technically challenging and politically complex, so it pays to consider your options carefully before proceeding.

Find out about your ‘local plan’

It is vital to find out whether your land is part of your local authority’s ‘Local Plan’, which sets out where new housing development is to be permitted. Authority’s must also demonstrate a five-year housing land supply. If your land is included in the local plan, or is identified within the five year housing supply, planning approval will be so much easier.

If not, all is not lost. You could still obtain planning permission on appeal if your local council cannot show that it has an effective five-year housing land supply. I would advise putting land forward to your authority for consideration at any time and not necessarily wait for the council’s ‘call for sites’. It will take time but at least it’s on their radar.

Explore a potential option agreement

An Option Agreement involves the developer agreeing to buy the land in the future, typically after receipt of a planning consent. The main advantage of this procedure for farmers is that they do not have to run the risk of paying for the planning process but can benefit from a positive planning outcome.

Talk to the local community to build trust and openness

Building houses on agricultural land tends to trigger greater local concern than development in urban areas or brownfield land, so it is essential to engage with the local community through a public consultation programme. If you can answer the concerns of local people and allay any anxieties at an early stage, you have a much greater chance of gaining support or resolving potential objections.

Green belt does not necessarily mean a red light

Many people think all open countryside is green belt, but only a small proportion of land in England is designated as such. Even if your land is in the green belt you can still obtain planning permission if your local council fails to establish that it has sufficient other land to fulfil its five-year housing targets.

For further advice on selling agricultural land for housing development, or any other rural land and property matter, call Julie on 01768 254 354.