Farmland car parks may break law, advisers warn

Farmers planning to allow public car parking on fields must be aware of strict rules on land use, the NFU and legal advisers have warned.

Public visits to the countryside have rocketed since the coronavirus pandemic began and many farmers have allowed parking on their land to ease vehicle congestion.

However, this could infringe rules under environmental schemes, the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS), insurance and some tenancies.

Basic Payment Scheme

Under BPS, car parking is allowed for 28 days or fewer in a calendar year, an NFU spokeswoman said.  

But the land must still be used primarily for farming or must be removed from the BPS claim. For example, a hardstanding created for cars would render that land area ineligible for BPS.

In this situation, the land area must be recorded via an RLE1 form process and removed from the BPS claim.

Likewise, permanent fencing erected would trigger a remapping exercise on the RLE1 form.

Again, any car parking activity over the 28-day limit would mean the area had to be removed from the BPS claim.

Environmental stewardship land

Use of stewardship land should be avoided for car parks, the NFU said.

In most cases, the environmental outcome is unlikely to be achieved if the land is used as a car park, the union’s spokesman warned.

However, under some circumstances, it may be beneficial for the stewardship objectives if it alleviates pressure on other habitats.

This must be done within relevant planning regulations and not on a site of special scientific interest, the NFU stressed.

It also means that the area is likely to be ineligible for the stewardship payment claim.

Only the agreement holder can apply to the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) for permission using the minor temporary adjustment (MTA) route.

See also: 5 most common cross-compliance errors and how to avoid them

Insurance

Jeanette Dennis, a partner at law firm Ashtons added that farmers must contact their insurers before going ahead with a car-parking venture.

Landowners could be personally liable for injuries, thefts or accidents caused, Ms Dennis said.

Where land is not owned outright, the mortgage company should also be involved. Any potential change in value, either increase or decrease, will have to be addressed, she added.

Tenancies

Land farmed under an old-style 1986 Act tenancy will likely include clauses that forbid the use of land for car parking.

Later farm business tenancies are less likely to have this clause inserted.

If it is not written in, it is not enforceable, but this must be checked. Whatever the tenancy says, the tenant must contact the landowner to discuss the issue, Ms Dennis advised.

The landlord may want a a share of any increased income or have concerns over permanent damage to fields, roads and hedges.

Covid-19

Restrictions applying to Covid-19 are still in place and must be adhered to.

A car park will be seen as a gathering of people and the landowner is liable.

Effectively, a car park is judged under the same rules as a rave and the farmer, therefore, risks heavy penalties until the Covid-19 rules change, Ms Dennis said.    

Detailed advice on car parking is available to NFU members via its website.

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