Road plans will take thousands of hectares of farmland

Scores of farms have had their futures thrown into jeopardy after the government announced its preferred option for a major road development.

The Department for Transport unveiled plans for its Oxford to Cambridge Expressway on 12 September.

The plan shows a broad corridor linking Cambridge, the M1, Milton Keynes, the M40 and Oxford that cuts through more than 100 farms and thousands of hectares of agricultural land.

See also: Housebuilding boom: What does it mean for farmers?

The precise route for the expressway within that corridor is still to be decided and a consultation on two options will not begin until next year.

But Buckinghamshire-based land and property agents Robinson & Hall said despite the long process, the announcement would immediately affect the plans of many of its clients.

Farmer uncertainty

Partner and rural surveyor for the firm, Andrew Jenkinson, said the news meant farmers looking to sell, let or develop land themselves had already been thrown into uncertainty.

Mr Jenkinson cited one unit that had just obtained planning permission for a number of new farm buildings.

“The farmer in this case will now be uncertain, despite compensation provisions, as to whether there is any point in continuing with the buildings.

“Other farms will also find themselves in this same state of business paralysis while the exact route is defined,” Mr Jenkinson said.

But the land grab does not stop with the expressway itself.

The road is only one part of the proposal that aims to build 140,000 houses – possibly in a new city between Bicester in Oxfordshire and Bletchley in Buckinghamshire – that could take another 12,140ha of land.

In addition, the government insists that land must be taken up for environmental mitigation measures for the road – putting thousands more acres of farmland in line for compulsory purchase.

Mr Jenkinson advised any landowners to act quickly and warned against ignoring the proposed development.

Engage with developers

Resisting and then seeing land taken under a compulsory purchase order (CPO) at agricultural values is the worst outcome, he said.

Instead he said landowners should engage with developers, authorities and work to form large groups with fellow farmers.

Mr Jenkinson explained this approach could improve the price received for land taken by the developers.

Positive proposals agreed with groups of landowners across larger parcels of land could achieve higher values than CPO acquisitions, he said.

Negotiations on land purchased for environmental measures had realised 30-50% improvements in values over CPOs, Mr Jenkinson added.

There is also the prospect of gaining control over the way the land is used for environmental mitigation.

“We have successfully redesigned plans by repositioning proposed landscape features.”

Re-siting trees and hedgerows to the edges of land areas has meant that the land could still be farmed, improving its use and future value, Mr Jenkinson explained.

“This is a far better outcome for the landowner in the long term and farmers should start the process by talking to their advisers now,” he insisted.

How to react to development threat

  • Work together with other landowners and take an active role
  • Research – gain as much information about the project as possible
  • Decide approach:
    • Join forces to create commercial proposition
  • Get advice – talk to agent, legal, policy and planning experts
    • Think large-scale
    • Plan thoroughly
    • Present joint proposal
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