Agricultural occupier restrictions on rural properties

Where a landowner applies for permission to develop a dwelling on green belt land, and (due to the rural location) such development would not normally be permitted, then the local planning authority may grant permission, subject to a condition that restricts the occupation of the dwelling to a certain category of person (e.g. a farm worker and his/her family). This condition is often referred to as an ‘ag tag’.

If an ag tag is breached for a period of 10 years, the local planning authority loses the ability to enforce that breach. however, this is not necessarily a satisfactory situation; if, after the 10 year period is established, the property becomes vacant, then that resets the clock and it would need to be breached for a further 10 years to become unenforceable again.

If a breach has occurred for more than 10 years, an owner can apply for a certificate of lawful use, which will state that the use at the time that certificate is issued is lawful, however, the breach must have occurred for a period of more than 10 years and be continuing at the point of application. Therefore, if the property is vacant when the application is made, the breach will not be ongoing and a certificate of lawful use will be unavailable.

A recent case offers another way of challenging an ag tag: An applicant converted a farm building to a dwelling in 2007/2008, and the permission giving consent to the conversion contained an ag tag.

The applicant applied to have the ag tag removed pursuant to section 73 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, which allows an application to vary a planning permission by having a condition discharged or modified. The council initially refused the application but the applicant took the matter to appeal.

The point at hand was whether the ag tag remained reasonable and necessary, considering the need for the housing of agricultural/forestry workers in the locality or a dependent of such a person.

The applicant had been marketing the property since July 2013. Three people had made offers but none could comply with the ag tag. The inspector considered that the period of marketing had been significant, the marketing campaign had been robust but there had been very low levels of interest. In addition, the property had a high value, which was well beyond the reach of many rural workers. Accordingly the inspector held that the ag tag should be removed as it was no longer reasonable or necessary.

Luke Cain is a solicitor in the Property department at Barker Gotelee Solicitors in Suffolk.

This article previously appeared in the East Anglian Daily Times 25th May 2019.

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