Agricultural dwellings 9.3
This section is concerned with the control of houses, bungalows and caravans in the open countryside where a special agricultural or forestry need is claimed. Also included here are cases where justification for a dwelling is sought by virtue of horse, fish, dog or cat care/rearing. The next section (9.4) deals exclusively with the very extensive body of practice concerned with proposals for the removal of standard agricultural occupancy conditions. The conversion of barns to farm dwellings is considered at (10.1).
Legal background 9.31
There are few specific legal problems relating to the control of agricultural dwellings, and most conflicts stem from local authority endeavours to control future occupancy and possible severance of farm dwellings. These matters are debated fully at (9.34). Later, at (9.41), legal matters concerning interpretation of the standard agricultural occupancy condition are discussed.
Reference should also be made to (4.535) where the degree of human habitation that is required for a residential use of a caravan to have occurred is discussed.
Residential caravan ancillary to agriculture? 9.311
The dubious proposition is sometimes argued, that a caravan or caravans occupied as a dwelling in connection with a farm is a use of land ancillary to agriculture, and that planning permission is not necessary.
The matter was debated in an enforcement appeal case concerning a caravan at an equestrian use. Court cases such as Hancock v SOS & Torridge DC 28/11/86 and Wealden v SOS & Colin Day 7/12/87 were quoted in favour of the proposition. However, an inspector felt a work connection was not in itself sufficient to create an ancillary link. He mused that an ancillary connection suggested a lesser use than the main use, that it must be contained within the ambit of the main use and its overriding use must be towards supporting the main use. In the end it will be a matter of fact and degree, taking into account the particular circumstances of the case. In this case there was no evidence that the occupant's time was solely devoted to equestrian work at the holding, and the inspector was not satisfied that there existed the degree of dependency between the residential activity and the equestrian use to suggest the whole occupation of the caravan was sufficiently subservient to be ancillary (North Wiltshire DC 3/6/97 034-894-699).
It is of note than in the above case the inspector did not rule out the possibility that a residential caravan could be ancillary to agriculture. However, if this was the case (in the words of the local authority's Counsel) a coach and horses would be driven through town planning legislation.
The situation where caravans are used as mess rooms, and for occasional overnight stays is discussed in more detail at (22.1133).
Seasonal workers' caravans 9.312
Part 5 of Schedule 2 of the GPDO contains gives a permitted development right derived from the wording of the Caravan Sites & Control of Development Act 1960, for "use as a caravan site of agricultural land for the accommodation during a particular season of a person or persons engaged in farming (or forestry) operations of the same land." A general condition requires that when the seasonal accommodation need ceases the use shall cease and the caravan be removed as soon as reasonably practicable. The following cases have debated the circumstances in which this freedom applies, illustrating a need for the wording in this particular part of the GPDO to be tightened up!
A magistrates court had held in a prosecution under the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960 that a "particular season" could amount to a whole year. The High Courtheld that a "season" was a period of less than one year using the dictionary definition Vale of White Horse DC v Mirmalek-Sani & Another 29/1/93.
It was alleged that woodland was being used as a caravan site, but it was argued that the caravans were on site to accommodate seasonal forestry workers. An inspector found on the basis of the evidence that whilst some caravans had been removed on a seasonal basis, others had come and gone regardless of the season. He concluded that the character of the site was such that Part 5 rights did not apply. The ten year rule was also pleaded but the inspector felt that the use of the site was not the same as that existing ten years ago. There had been a gradual intensification from a use that was primarily forestry to one that was a mixed use for forestry and as a caravan site. The appeal was dismissed (Ceredigion DC 13/7/95 052-730-469).
Seasonal exemption was claimed in respect of the wintering of cattle. An inspector retorted that the term seasonal agricultural activity seemed to him to be directed at activities such as sheep rearing, fruit picking and the like where a specific need arose at a particular time of the farming year, rather than the ongoing care of stock in the winter months (South Lakeland DC 1/2/85 DCS No.035-580-625).
A caravan required for seasonal workers at a sheep farm and been the subject of an enforcement notice. The caravan was needed at lambing, dipping and shearing time and when the farmland was cut off by snow, about 10 weeks in all. It was also used at other times as a base for shelter, refreshment and toilet purposes. An inspector did not challenge the appellant's assertion that his specific uses were seasonal, but he pointed out that the terms of the seasonal use class required the removal of the 'van at other times. It was decided to grant a temporary and personal permission (Somerset CC 1/8/85 DCS No.053-160-473). Enforcement action was taken relating to a caravan and a claim that it was in seasonal use for potato harvesting workers for two or three weeks in the year was accepted. However this inspector felt that if the caravan remained on site but was used for agricultural purposes as per the Wealden case (see 22.112) there was no breach of control in this respect either. He quashed the notice (Dyfed CC 9/5/94 033-250-277).
An application was refused for a LDC in respect of 2 caravans. It was argued that the 'vans were permitted development but an inspector felt that this class of permitted development was clearly intended to allow a farmer (who presumably already lived at the farm unit) to take on extra help for particular seasonal activities like lambing or potato-picking, for a relatively short duration, where the worker's accommodation would be a caravan brought onto the land for that purpose and removed afterwards. The proposition in this case was tantamount to full-time residential occupation (Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority 12/2/96 DCS No.055-545-478).
Enforcement action was taken against a caravan. It was claimed that the accommodation was used in the appropriate season to house a forestry worker. However, an inspector found that the caravan had been occupied continuously for the past 4-5 years. It had not been removed after each season and therefore was not permitted development (Carmarthenshire 15/2/00 DCS No. 036-776-931).
Market trends 9.32
Generally speaking farm sizes in Britain are becoming more polarised. One trend is towards the creation of larger and theoretically more efficient units by amalgamation, mainly of arable holdings. On such holdings, traditional farm-based labour tends to be giving way to the employment of agricultural contractors. Another trend is the continuing establishment of small units by those trying their hand at agriculture for the first time and those made redundant by the decline of medium-sized family farms. These smaller units are normally based on modern intensive farming practices such as horticulture, battery chicken operations and other intensive animal rearing activities, such as trout farming, calf production, pig or rabbit rearing. Another trend that can be identified is a movement towards more specialised forms of farming associated with organically produced foods, such as goats milk, honey, free-range eggs and so on, and this may be seen as a reaction to the allegedly harmful effects of so-called "agribusiness" on food quality. This trend has brought into viability some organic/free-range smallholdings which hitherto could not justify a dwelling.
While contributing to the decline in demand for agricultural workers in the traditional sense, the trend towards larger farm units has also generated a demand for specialist workers and managers, and thus accommodation that may attract such employees. Additionally, reorganisation of farm units sometimes means that existing dwellings are in the wrong place for efficient supervision, and smaller unit creation can result in holdings with no associated housing and therefore strong arguments for dwellings based on supervision/security needs. Thus although employment in agriculture continues to fall slowly but steadily (current figures suggest that only 2.5% of the labour force in Britain is employed in agriculture about 430,000 people), there is a continuing demand for new farm housing in many areas.
The agricultural economy at the present time is a volatile one, affected considerably by government and European Community (EC) intervention in the market through subsidy and quota variation. Over production within the EC has led to a radical change in the pattern of British farming and land is now being taken out of production aided by grants under the Government's "Set Aside" scheme, or used for recreational or tourist projects. The dramatic fall in agricultural land prices since the mid 1980s has added to the uncertainty about the future of the farming industry and has undermined the economy of many farms operating on borrowed money.
However, current trends do not seem to have lead to a marked diminishment in the demand for agricultural dwellings, although much of the problem is that the existing stock of farm dwellings are either of the wrong sort and in the wrong place to suit modern agricultural practices and farm sizes.
The ease with which the farmers can dispose of dwellings which are no longer required for the efficient operation of the holding concerned has of course some relevance to the demand for new accommodation. However, the occupant of a tied dwelling, i.e. one which goes with the job, has some protection from eviction under the Rent (Agriculture) Act 1976 when his or her services are dispensed with. The Act provides that farmers may only obtain possession of such dwellings when they have made a convincing case based on farm efficiency to the Agricultural Dwelling-House Advisory Committee. The local authority may have to provide accommodation in the event of a successful application.
Agricultural occupancy conditions, which in theory should have been applied to nearly all new farm dwellings over the past 35 years or so, can also be removed, as the next section of this manual (9.4) shows in detail.
The existence of a strong and continuing demand for rural housing in most areas, no matter what condition it is in, provides farmers with a strong incentive for shedding as much accommodation as possible, provided that they can overcome the ties referred to above. It also provides a few with the temptation to abuse the system if they can get away with it.