December Professional Ponderings

Added on December 2, 2017 in Recent News


For one reason or another, November seems to have flown by; they do say that time flies when you are having fun! In an attempt to understand what I have been doing, I looked back at my diary for the last month which provided me with some “inspiration” for this month’s ponderings.

I am currently assisting a number of clients with compensation claims in respect of pipelines, road schemes etc. As ever, often the hardest part of the process is agreeing the amount of compensation. In an ideal world, you will have made sure that the contractors have reinstated to your satisfaction, but often the contractors have been and gone by the time the claim is drawn up and it is difficult to get them back on site to make good any unsatisfactory reinstatement works; prevention is better than a cure. As such, if you are affected by a scheme, I would urge you to build up a good rapport with the Project Manager and highlight any concerns as soon as they appear to ensure they can be dealt with promptly or specifically noted as an item of compensation. For example, a Developer seeking to build a road to facilitate a significant development has been busy undertaking ground investigation surveys, most of which have been largely unintrusive. However, the recent round of works will involve an element of bore holing and/or open trenching and, therefore we made it clear to them that there will inevitably be an amount of compensation due; we even went to the effort of providing an estimate as to the likely amount of compensation. Consequently, the Developers were minded to change their plans in order to reduce the compensation due; it’s a “win win” situation. If we had not raised this, then no doubt we would have had a difficult discussion after the works had been undertaken. As ever, evidence/proof really substantiates your claim for compensation. This could be in the form of photographic evidence or detailed documentation. At the beginning of any project, try to keep a detailed diary of the time spent on the matter, as it is then much easier to agree with the other side.

This next paragraph is most likely to appeal to those closer to the West Midlands, so please bear with me if you’re not in this area. Severn Trent Water are reopening their environmental grant scheme for farmers. The scheme is called the ‘Severn Trent Environmental Protection Scheme’ (“STEPS”) and is solely funded by Seven Trent. It is the fourth year of scheme and the grants are intended to support farmers in making improvements to their farm management and infrastructure in an attempt to reduce the risk of pollution from their land into local water courses. The scheme will target those in Severn Trent Priority Catchments including (but not limited to) Avon (east of M1 between junction(s) 18 & 20), Leam (area(s) surrounding Daventry, Southam & Leamington Spa), Bourne & Blythe (area between Birmingham & Coventry), Worcestershire Severn (west of M5 between junction(s) 4 & 9). The STEPs scheme provides funding up to a maximum of £5,000 per year per farm, which represents an estimated 50% of the total cost of the capital and land management items, which include fencing, margins, rainwater harvesting, sediment ponds to name but a few. The window for grant applications for 2018/19 opens on 1st January and closes on the 16th March 2018.

The next paragraph relates to the opportunities available to land owners under the current Town and Country Planning system. We have covered this topic a number of times in recent years, but I make no apologies for covering the very same subject again, as there is real opportunity for farmers to make use of the current relaxation of rules concerning the conversion of an agricultural building to dwelling houses. Class Q Part 3 Schedule 2 of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015 provides a form of permitted development, which was introduced in 2014, that allows the change of use of certain buildings from agriculture to residential use. The rules have allowed the conversion of isolated agricultural buildings, which would otherwise have been prevented due to their remote location. We have recently secured consent for the conversion of a former dairy building to a dwelling house. On the face of it, the building was not a “dead cert” as its external walls were made of concrete brick blockwork under profiled cement sheeting and it didn’t look like your typical traditional agricultural building. Nonetheless, after an initial assessment, we pursued an application on the basis that a nearby steel portal frame building had been given consent under Class Q for the conversion of an agricultural building to a single dwelling house, which has subsequently been sold for a significant amount of money! After a relatively short time, we received a positive determination. As such, I urge you to consider whether there are any opportunities on your farm, as the rules could change under a different government, and you may have missed the opportunity. There are of course common pitfalls which need to be considered before an application is submitted, such as whether the building is structurally sound enough to be capable of being converted; is it practical or desirable to convert i.e. if it is it located next to existing farming operations, then its location may be undesirable and impractical; are the buildings in an agricultural use or are they used in conjunction with the farmhouse, the latter could potentially fetter your application.

For those who need to apply or reapply to register a temporary use of land to keep livestock (such as Temporary Land Associations or Temporary County Parish Holding numbers), you should note that Defra have amended the application form and the new form is downloadable from the website. Do make a note to do these early in the New Year in plenty of time before you start turning out stock.

During the course of November, the RPA produced an update on BPS payments for 2017. Claimants have started to receive payments for the 2017 scheme year from 1st December and the RPA have committed to paying claims as promptly as they can; there are still several thousand claimants that still not received all of their 2016 payments, so I am a little sceptical about this commitment. Shortly after receiving your payment, the RPA will send remittance advice in the post confirming the amount, and I suspect the Claim Statement will follow several weeks thereafter. As ever, please ensure that you check that what you have received is what you are entitled to, as there were a large amount of underpayments last year, which would not been picked up by the RPA. Strictly speaking, the payment window is open until the end of June and therefore a payment is not late until this date. If a payment has not been made by this point, then a ‘bridging payment’ will be made, representing the majority (circa 70%) of your claim. The confirmed payment rate for this year for the non-SDA (Severely Disadvantaged Area) payment region is €258.15 which at the confirmed exchange rate equates to just over £230 per hectare (£93 per acre). For those of you with outstanding 2016 payments, the RPA have confirmed that these will be paid as soon as possible but they are unable to provide any specific dates.

I suspect that I will not see many of you in the period leading up to Christmas and therefore I wish you all an enjoyable festive period and a prosperous New Year.

With Best Wishes

Chris Templar – Rural Surveyor

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