Buying agricultural land to extend your garden
Kelsie Essenhigh, Legal Director in the Agriculture and Rural Land team considers what you should look for when thinking of extending your garden by buying adjoining farmland.
The Covid-19 pandemic has seen a marked increase in the number of people wanting more space. The increased competition in the housing market has meant that finding the perfect home with the right size garden can be difficult. If you are fortunate enough to live in a more rural setting, you might be considering extending your garden by purchasing adjoining agricultural or paddock land. What follows is a brief guide of the main elements to consider.
What will I have to pay?
Short supply and increased demand has significantly increased the value of agricultural land over the last few years. There is growing evidence that the increase in demand is, in part, being driven by lifestyle or investment buyers. A lifestyle buyer is likely to pay more than the agricultural value because of what the land means to them, whether it be preserving a view, increasing the amount of outside space or ultimately, increasing the value of their home.
If you are interested in buying additional land to extend your garden, you are likely to make the first move to establish if terms for a sale can be agreed. As a special interest buyer, you should expect to pay a premium over and above the agricultural value of the land. There may well be other costs, such as VAT or agreeing to make a contribution towards the seller’s legal and surveyor’s costs. This is in addition to your own costs and any Stamp Duty Land Tax. The final amount payable in the conveyancing process will depend on exactly what is involved. We are happy to provide a fee estimate to help you budget for this part of the purchase.
Can I incorporate the land into my garden?
The short answer is ‘maybe’. One of the main considerations is whether a change of use from agricultural land to garden use will be achievable. Land that is used for agricultural purposes will often be subject to planning and rural protection policies. Planning permission is required to change the use from agricultural to garden, and local authorities are often reluctant to give permission where there may be a risk of increased development or urbanisation of the countryside. What amounts to garden use will depend on the circumstances. A brief scan of countryside neighbourhood forums reveals that neighbours can get quite upset when they feel that planning designations are being ignored, so it is best to consider early in the process, what do you actually want to do with the land? If you are considering removing existing hedges or boundary features and cultivating a manicured lawn, with formal flowerbeds, then that is likely to be a change of use and will require planning permission. If you are proposing to build a permanent garden building, for use as a home office or gym, again this will require planning consent. It is important to bear in mind that things like moving soil, digging holes or making a new access are all ‘engineering operations’ constituting development and triggering the requirement for planning.
If your intention is to retain the rural nature of the land by having a smallholding, growing crops, keeping animals etc then planning permission may not be required, but beyond that, things can get quite complicated. We are happy to introduce you to other professionals who can guide you through the planning aspects and advise whether you should approach the planning authority for pre-application advice. Given the potential costs involved with such a project, this might be money well spent.
If agricultural land is enveloped and used as part of your garden without permission, you could be subject to planning enforcement action. If you have been using an area as if it were a part of your garden, without having secured planning for change of use, for at least 10 years without interruption then may be able to apply for a Certificate of Lawful Use and again, we would recommend you seek specialist advice on this.
Rights and Covenants etc
You will need to think about whether you need any additional rights to use the land you are buying, such as access with machinery (unless sufficient access can be secured over your existing garden). Depending on the amount of land that you are proposing to buy, you might also want to think about maintenance of any new/ existing boundaries and maintaining a water supply.
Irrespective of the planning framework, the owner of the land may want to impose conditions or restrictions on your use, such a prohibition on building or only permitting certain types of building, for example a shed or field shelter.
The seller might also say that they want a share in the increase of value on the land if you obtain planning permission for change of use or for development. This is known as overage. Overage is normally time limited, but it can continue for a significant period of time.
The process of buying land
We can refer you to a surveyor who can advise on value/price, rights and covenants etc. They will also draw up an agreed set of heads of terms between you and the seller. This can often streamline the process of buying land. We would then discuss the terms with you, look at any plans that have been provided by the seller and advise on what searches and enquiries might be required to ensure you understand what you are buying. Finally, we negotiate the contract and transfer with the seller, report to you and proceed to completion and registration at the Land Registry.
If you are thinking of buying or indeed selling agricultural land, seeking early advice can help to avoid potential issues with neighbours or the local planning authority. If you have any questions, please do get in touch.