Key points to consider before embarking on rural property development work


Despite the worries over Brexit and the uncertainties following the election, our farming and landowning clients are showing a continued appetite for property development. This is being encouraged by continued low interest rates, shortage of office space in some areas, a relatively benign planning regime and the introduction of Permitted Development Rights for the conversion of some farm buildings.

If you are considering some development work, here are some key points to consider before embarking on the project:

  • Ownership

This may sound obvious, but in a farm scenario it may not be entirely straightforward. Time may lead to incorrect assumptions being made regarding the ownership of farm assets. Elements of the assets, land or buildings, may be in a different, historic, family ownership. When considering ownership, do not forget the access to the site. Uncle Bob may be quite content with agricultural vehicles crossing his land, but may not be so keen on the idea of development traffic and an increased amount of domestic traffic.

  • Requirements of the Site

Following on from the above, is the existing access, including from where it joins the public highway, suitable for the proposed development and is it free from any restrictions? Are there existing rights of drainage that can be utilised or a right to tap into existing services? If so, are they suitable for the proposed development? For example, an existing septic tank may well not be able to accommodate additional development and inadequate power supplies can be expensive to upgrade.

  • Restrictions upon the Site

It is not uncommon to find rights of adjoining owners or third parties affecting rural development sites. Rights of way can impact a site, while mineral rights may be an issue if deep foundations are required. Sporting rights have been used to block developments on green field sites and the registration of the site as a Village Green can also frustrate.

Rural sites can often be burdened by restrictive covenants. Previous owners can have retained the right to benefit from the development uplift or a right of pre-emption. These issues can often be resolved, but may threaten the viability of the proposal.

  • Consents

Planning permission is the most obvious consent required and an early conversation with the relevant Planning Officer will give a good indication of whether the initial investment will be worthwhile. Don’t assume that the Permitted Development Rights for small scale conversion of agricultural buildings to residential use will negate the need for planning permission. Many planning authorities seem to be doing their best to thwart such development. If existing buildings on the site are Listed, Listed Building Consent will be required. Consent may also be needed for any work affecting trees on the site.

  • Grant

With possibly the last tranche of CAP rural development grants now on stream, there may be grant aid available if you are developing for commercial or tourism use. It is worth checking what is available in your area.

Given the above, I should not really need to stress the importance of holding early discussions with your professional advisers. Sadly, this does not always happen. There are still times when we are asked to sort out costly and time-consuming problems which could have been avoided with the right advice at the outset.

If you would like any further information or to discuss any rural related matter, please contact Tom Wills, head of the agriculture & estates department at Sintons.

This article was featured in the Darlington and Stockton Times – 3/8/2017.


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