The objective of agricultural occupancy conditions (AOC), from a national and local planning perspective, is to protect property in agricultural settings from development and to ensure that agricultural workers are able to secure low-priced accommodation in the locality in which they work. An AOC usually requires that:
“the occupation of the property is limited to a person solely or mainly employed, or last employed, in the locality in agriculture…or in forestry (including any dependents of such a person residing with him) or a widow or widower of such a person”
In effect this means that the property is subject to a planning condition which requires the occupant of the property to be locally employed in agriculture. Section 336(1) of the Town and County Planning Act 1990 defines ‘agriculture’ broadly to include:
1. Horticulture, fruit growing, seed growing, dairy farming;
2. The breeding and keeping of livestock (including any creature kept for the production of food, wool, skins or fur, or for the purpose of its use in the farming of land);
3. The use of land as grazing land, meadow land, osier land, market gardens and nursery gardens; and
4. The use of land for the woodlands where that use is ancillary to the farming of land for other agricultural purposes.
Effect of an Agricultural Occupancy Condition
The key effect that an AOC has is upon the value of the property, which is why our teams are so often involved in ensuring they are removed. Although the value of a property subject to an AOC is case specific, in general it will be valued at 10%-40% below the market value of the property unencumbered by the AOC.
This is particularly important in transactions which are being funded by mortgage finance, as disclosure of an AOC could result in the lender withdrawing a mortgage offer or the lender’s valuation of the property being adversely affected. It is vital when considering re-financing an agriculturally tied property to ensure that the reduction in value of the property is considered when assessing whether it provides sufficient security for the loan.
It is, therefore, crucial in rural property transactions to commission a Local Search and review all planning permissions connected with the property at an early stage to ascertain whether an AOC applies.
Complying with an Agricultural Occupancy Condition
As with all planning conditions, owners and occupiers of the property are required to comply with them. If an occupier fails to comply with an AOC, the Local Authority may serve an enforcement notice detailing the steps required to comply with the planning condition within a set timeframe. Once this has been served it will apply indefinitely to the property, this means if the notice is initially complied with but there is a subsequent breach, the enforcement notice will be reactivated. Failure to comply is a criminal offence and upon conviction the offender is liable to an unlimited fine.
The time limit for enforcement action for a breach of a planning condition is 10 years from the date of the breach. The difficulty in cases of AOCs is that the breach of the condition must be continuous over the period of 10 years. This means that if at any point within, or after, the 10 year period the AOC is complied with, i.e. an agricultural worker occupies the property, then the 10 year time limit on enforcement action will be restarted.
Solutions for an Agricultural Occupancy Condition
An individual wishing to negate the adverse effects of an AOC in relation to a property has two options; apply to remove the condition under an application pursuant to s 73 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 or apply for a Certificate of Lawful Established Use (CLEUD).
1. Application to remove a Planning Condition
In order for an application to remove an AOC to succeed, the applicant will need to demonstrate that there is no longer a need for the property to be reserved for an agricultural purpose. Demonstrating this point can usually be achieved by marketing the property unsuccessfully at a price which adequately reflects the decreased value of the property due to the AOC. The period of time that the property will need to be marketed to provide sufficient evidence can vary so relevant enquiries should be made to the local planning authority, but in general a six month period is usually sufficient. However, there is a risk that a genuine offer is received which makes it more difficult to argue that there is no longer a need for such a dwelling in the locality.
2. Certificate of Lawful Established Use
A CLEUD establishes that an existing use is lawful and therefore prevents enforcement action from the local planning authority. If an AOC has been breached continuously for at least 10 years then the occupier may apply for a CLEUD. The application must contain sufficient evidence to demonstrate that the breach has been continuous over a period of 10 years working back from the date of the application. This evidence can take the form of statutory declarations of previous occupiers, letters of employers of confirming previous occupier’s employment or employment contracts.
It is important to note that if the AOC is complied with after the CLEUD is obtained, it can no longer be relied upon, and the AOC would come back into force again. For this reason, it is preferable to apply to remove the AOC to prevent any risk that the AOC will be revived upon future compliance.
Furthermore, even if a CLEUD is successfully obtained, it does not remove the AOC from the property so a planning application to vary or remove the condition will need to be made.
If your property is subject to an agricultural occupancy condition and you need assistance or if you have any questions on anything covered in this article, please do not hesitate to contact our Property Disputes, Planning or Agriculture teams on 01603 610911 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please note, the content of this article is for general information only and does not constitute legal advice. Specific legal advice should be taken in any particular circumstance.