Property Solicitors Suffolk – Ending of the current Rural Development Programme

BarkerG_ 6686 1

‘2013 has witnessed a steady increase in farmland values in East Anglia with demand still outstripping supply. But, as we approach 2014, a cloud of uncertainty hovers over the market with the ending of the current Rural Development Programme (RDP) on 31 December 2013 and no replacement programme in sight until at least 1 January 2015. Already, we are seeing a lack of clarity on the part of Natural England as to how the transitional arrangements for 2014 will actually work.

This uncertainty is particularly relevant to the transfer of environmental stewardship schemes. Many farms in this area have entered either or both of the Entry Level (ELS) and Higher Level (HLS) Schemes, receiving annual payments from Natural England in exchange for a range of environmental features and management. These schemes are typically for a five or ten year period. Land owners who have entered either scheme must give Natural England three months’ notice of a land transfer.

With the current RDP ending on 31 December 2013, Natural England issued a deadline of 11 November 2013 to notify the transfer of existing schemes. Now that that deadline has passed, it is unclear how such schemes will be transferred to a new landowner during the transitional period until 1 January 2015. Funding will continue in 2014 for existing agreements which continue beyond 2013 and for new agreements signed up in 2013 but until the EU Commission agree specific transitional measures, it is impossible for Natural England to give its scheme holders any clarity on the arrangements for transferring schemes in 2014.

The EU Commission has acknowledged that member states will not be able to introduce new RDP schemes until January 2015 and even then it will take several months for the details of the new RDP to be formulated to allow landowners to enter any new schemes. Natural England has indicated that it is planning to develop a successor to environmental stewardship in 2015 but any new schemes will need to be approved by the EU Commission and will not actually start until 1 January 2016. For the next two years, landowners whose schemes are due to finish will be in limbo until the transitional arrangements are finalised.

Around 11,000 ELS agreements are due to finish during 2015 so for those landowners there is likely to be a gap of several months before any new scheme can be put in place. The lack of clarity on the transitional arrangements needs to be addressed urgently to allow land transfers to take place during 2014 and 2015.’

Toby Pound is a property solicitor at Barker Gotelee, solicitors in Suffolk

Property Solicitors – click here for more information on our range of services