April Ponderings - 2021

April Professional Ponderings

“A Pint of Beer Please”

These are the words that I have been longing to say for what feels like an eternity.  Though the weather has been changeable, the prospect of sitting in a pub garden with friends and family has certainly lifted my spirits and though we still have a long way to go, life does seem to be improving.  Fortunately, the Agricultural team have remained busy throughout the pandemic and personally speaking I am as busy as I can remember. I am not sure why this is exactly, but I suspect it is in part due to clients having more time to focus upon the overall farm business.

 

We have arranged most of this year’s grasskeeping arrangements, but still have the odd bit to sort. If you are looking for grass, then please register your details and requirements by either contacting a member of the Agricultural team or emailing your requirements to enquiries@bletsoes.co.uk.  Conversely, if you have surplus grass to sell, then please do let us know.

 

The Agricultural team will soon be busy with Basic Payment Scheme applications.  The greening requirements have been scrapped, so there is no longer a requirement to comply with the rules concerning Crop Diversification and Ecological Focus Area. Therefore, you are free to crop what you like!  However, the application process is still very much the same, so you will still need to detail what crops are where and in what proportion.  If you have an Environmental Stewardship agreement, such as ELS and HLS, or a Countryside Stewardship agreement, such as Mid-Tier or Higher-Tier, it is important to make sure your BPS Land Use Codes are compatible with the relevant management option.  Increasingly, I am seeing clients have issues with incompatible land use codes. In some instances, these issues have led to inspections, which have then led to hefty penalties.

 

Early reports are that the English market for Entitlements is busy and are trading at a similar level with non-SDA Entitlements selling between £110/unit plus VAT to £180/unit, depending on lot size.  With BPS payments reducing, you would have expected to see Entitlement values reduce. However, the proposed ‘exit support scheme’ (also known as the ‘retirement payment’) is helping to keep values firm. Incidentally, although the precise details of the proposed retirement package are not known, it is possible the ‘exit support scheme’ may be linked to your 2021 BPS application as a ‘reference year’ and therefore it may prove prudent to maximise your claim if you are intending to take advantage of the ‘exit support scheme’. The reference year element may also be appropriate with future delinking of BPS payments. As ever, please contact us with your Entitlement requirements.

 

We are busy assisting clients in relation to the proposed A428 Black Cat to Caxton Gibbet Road Improvement Scheme.  The much-anticipated Development Consent Order (DCO) application was submitted by Highways England to the Planning Inspectorate on 26th February 2021.  On 23rd March 2021, the Planning Inspectorate confirmed that the application had been accepted for examination.  During this pre-examination stage, parties can register to become an Interested Party on the application by making a Relevant Representation.  The Planning Inspectorate will soon publish the date by which you can register to become an Interested Party on the application.  You will always have at least 28 days to register.  During the pre-examination stage, you will be able to view the application documents, provide your views in writing via the Relevant Representation form, read the views of others who have registered to have their say, and attend the preliminary meeting.  If you are affected by the scheme, you should register as an Interested Party to ensure that you can make formal representations in respect of the scheme.

 

Stratford-on-Avon District Council and Warwick District Council are working together to prepare a new Local Plan for South Warwickshire. The Plan is expected to replace the strategic policies of their respective local plans, which both run to 2031. The ‘South Warwickshire Local Plan’ will set out a long-term spatial strategy for housing, jobs, infrastructure and climate change for both Districts. The full timetable for the preparation of the South Warwickshire Plan is still to be agreed. However, work is progressing with the first stages of plan preparation with the expectation of a first Scoping and Initial Options public consultation April-May 2021. At this stage, landowners (and developers) will have an opportunity to suggest suitable sites for development, commonly referred to as the ‘Call for Sites’ process. We have a specialist Planning & Development team, who can talk you through the process. In the first instance, please call me for further information.   

 

As regards infrastructure news, the Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps MP, has cancelled the proposed Oxford to Cambridge Expressway. The proposed Expressway was meant to facilitate development of the ‘Oxford-Cambridge Arc’ but was found not to provide value for money for the taxpayer.

 

Finally, the concept of Biodiversity Net Gain is beginning to gain traction at grass roots level, but it is location dependant. To remind you, Biodiversity Net Gain is the net improvement to biodiversity for a defined area of land. The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) places a responsibility on local planning authorities to encourage net gains for biodiversity to be sought through planning policies and decisions. Furthermore, the UK Government has announced that new English developments will be required to demonstrate a 10% increase in biodiversity on or near development sites. Therefore, developers may seek to fulfil their biodiversity off-site by purchasing biodiversity credits from third party landowners. I am aware of deals being done in Warwickshire between rural landowners (where the prospect of substantial development seems remote) and developers to sell biodiversity credits. Such sales may provide a good saving for the developer against the sum required for planning gain. DEFRA are currently working on a new and improved biodiversity metric for measuring biodiversity losses and gains; this updated metric is called the biodiversity metric 2.0. It is an area that will progress quickly and is worth paying attention to.

 

As the guest editorial slot rotates around the wider Bletsoes team, it may be a while before I write the Ponderings again, so I wish you the very best for the Spring and Summer and hope that you are able to enjoy spending more time with family and friends.

 

Christopher Templar - Salaried Partner

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