The UK policy environment can broadly be divided between the planning system, which deals with how land is used, above all for development and building on land, and the CAP, which covers how farmers are meant to treat their land, and which still provides a payment to both landowners and farmers. In addition there is some agricultural legislation which affects access to land.
Land use is controlled by the planning system, which was revised by the last government’s National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) in order, among other aims, to give more power to local authorities and the public to determine how development occurs in their area. Local Plans produced by the local planning authorities (LPAs) set out the long-term vision for development, including allocations and designations of land.i These are meant to be developed in consultation with the public, while at an even more local level, Neighbourhood Plans allow communities to set out policies for development in a neighbourhood area. Planning permission is required when changing land use from agricultural to non-agricultural.
The Local Plan is the starting point but the LPA has discretion in its decision making and must consider all the relevant factors. One such material consideration is the Agricultural Land Classification, which grades land by quality (Grades 1, 2, 3a, 3b, 4 and 5). LPAs are meant to take into account the economic and other benefits of best and most versatile agricultural land (grades 1, 2 and 3a of the Agricultural Land Classificationii). Where significant development of agricultural land is demonstrated to be necessary, LPAs should seek to use areas of poorer quality land in preference to that of a higher quality. They should also put in place policies to safeguard the long term potential of best and most versatile agricultural land and conserve soil resources. If land designated best and most versatile is lost this requires consultation with Natural England (on behalf of the Secretary of State for Defra) if it is not in accordance with the development plan and involves the loss of more than 20 hectares.iii
Initially designed to increase production at all costs, the CAP now aims to support the multifunctionality of farming and the use of farmland for more than just food, emphasising the importance of the environmental and social impacts of farming too. Successive rounds of reform of the policy give an opportunity for governments to use it for a range of ends, including support for new entrants and young farmers.
CAP reform is encouraging young farmers to enter farming by allowing basic payments plus 25% for the first five years of farming. Because of the CAP reform Defra are looking to create a Young Farmers Scheme that will include these benefits.iv
The Welsh Government have set up the Young Entrants Support Scheme (YESS), which allows for young entrants to farming to apply for a grant if they are setting up a holding for the first time.v Defra also funds organisations such as the National Federation of Young Farmers Clubs, which has 25,000 members and 644 clubs.
Land reform is politically hot in Scotland and has been for generations. Progressive reforms have been implemented mainly over the last 25 years, though arguably none have been as significant as the proposals contained in the current Land Reform (Scotland) Bill.