Whether you have a legal, tax, insurance, management or land issue, Farmers Weekly’s Business Clinic experts can help.
In this article, Alex Madden, a partner at Thrings, offers advice on the prospects of lifting an agricultural occupancy condition.
Q We would like to lift the agricultural tie on our property. Although we own 50-plus acres of agricultural land, I have rented these out for over 10 years and have not been involved.
As the land is being farmed (albeit not by myself) it remains agricultural. Does this disqualify me from lifting the tie? What do I need to prove?
A The first consideration in relation to your question is the wording of the agricultural tie – or Agricultural Occupancy Condition (AOC) – which has been placed on your property.
AOCs can vary considerably, and without sight of the precise wording of the condition, it is difficult to provide detailed guidance. For instance, some AOCs are linked to identified land or a specified acreage. However, the most common AOCs comprise wording along the following lines:
“The occupation of a dwelling shall be limited to a person solely or mainly working, or last working, in the locality in agriculture or in forestry, or a widower of such a person, and to any residential dependants.”
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Alex Madden, head of planning, Thrings
The wording of AOCs should be treated with caution as there are many variations, which while often subtle, result in different meanings.
Assuming the AOC attached to your property substantially follows the above wording, it is the occupation of the house that then becomes the focus, ie whether the occupants have complied with the condition.
In this context you will need to demonstrate you have not solely or mainly or last worked in agriculture.
Assuming you have not been engaged in agriculture on account of your having let the farmland, there is an argument that the condition has been breached.
It is important to be aware that if your last employment was in agriculture (eg, if you have retired), you are likely to have complied with the condition.
If the AOC has been breached for a continuous period of 10 years, the breach may have become immune from enforcement action and you can apply to the local planning authority (LPA) for a Certificate of Lawfulness of Existing Use or Development (Cleud).
It will be down to you to prove the breach has continued for 10 years without any interruption.
Therefore, if at any time during the period you may have complied with the condition, for example by working in agriculture then, notwithstanding the fact that the farm land is let out, you will not have breached the condition for the required continuous period to obtain immunity.
It is generally advisable to submit a Cleud application without delay once the initial 10-year period has passed.
If this doesn’t happen and the property becomes vacant for whatever reason before being occupied in breach of planning control, or the condition is complied with in some other way, the clock will be re-set and a further 10 years will be required before a successful Cleud application can be made.
Seek legal advice
Prior to making any Cleud application, it is recommended that you take professional legal advice on the application process, in particular the evidence to be submitted in support of any application.
This will be key to successfully obtaining a Cleud and may include witness statements and other evidence demonstrating non-compliance with the AOC.
You should bear in mind that even if you successfully obtain a Cleud which establishes the lawfulness of your occupation in breach of the AOC, this does not remove the AOC from the property.
To do that you will need to submit a planning application to the LPA to vary or remove the condition; the existence of the Cleud should carry significant weight in the determination of such an application.
In the meantime, if for any reason the AOC is complied with at any point in the future, the Cleud can no longer be relied upon and a subsequent breach could be subject to enforcement action by the LPA.
This is a complex situation, and it is recommended that you seek specialist independent legal advice to assess your situation.
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