Biodiversity Net Gain delay
The legislation requiring developers to improve the biodiversity of most new developments (there are some exemptions) by a minimum of 10% was due to come into force in November 2023. The government has announced it plans to delay its introduction until January 2024, causing further uncertainty across both the development and the agricultural sectors, both of which rely on long-term planning.
Supporting the agricultural sector: Defra consultation
Defra has consulted on relaxing the Class Q planning permissions to enable easier conversion of agricultural buildings to residential. In a parallel consultation, covering changes to wider planning law, the Department for Levelling-up and Defra sought views on ‘supporting the agricultural sector through additional flexibilities.’ This included proposals to extend permitted development rights to a wider range of buildings that can be converted to flexible commercial use, such as those used for forestry, equestrian or other rural activity. It also proposed a more flexible interpretation of Use Class E (commercial, business and service) to include outdoor sports, recreation, and fitness (but not motorsports), and expanding the right to other uses, such as industrial for processing raw goods on site (but not livestock).
Elsewhere in the consultation, Defra sought views on planning issues relating to nature-based solutions designed to bolster biodiversity, farm efficiency projects such as slurry stores and crop irrigation reservoirs, and ways of diversifying farm incomes not already covered by permitted development rights. The consultation finished in September and the Government response is not expected until December.
Sustainable Farming Incentive update
After considerable delay, the government opened the application window for the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) on 18 September, having published additional guidance for applicants in August. The launch was heralded with the news that 23 actions are now available with farmers able to choose the options that best suit their farming business. There is also more flexibility built into the offer, for instance, tenant farmers can now apply for shorter agreements without needing landlord permission. Payment rates have been improved, with parity introduced between lowland and upland farms, and recipients will be paid quarterly rather than annually.
£15,000 fine following injury to walkers
The Health and Safety Executive fined Wiltshire landowner, Sir Charles Hobhouse, £15,000 with £8,000 costs after two separate incidents in which walkers using public footpaths across his land were injured by cattle. Although farmers can put cattle in fields through which rights of way pass (excluding bulls over 10 months old and those of a recognised dairy breed), the HSE has provided guidance to help minimise the risk to the public:
- Locate feeding and watering locations away from the path.
- Provide clear waymarking.
- Use temporary fencing.
- Provide a temporary alternative route while the cattle are in situ.
Legislation to deter rural thieves
Following NFU Mutual’s most recent statistics relating to the cost of rural crime (£49.5m in 2022), news that the Equipment Theft (Prevention) Act became law in July may help to bring some respite from rural thieves. The law enables the Home Secretary to introduce additional measures to deter the theft and resale of quad bikes and ATVs including fitting ATVs with immobilisers, forensic markings and registering owners’ details on a central database.
Midlands worse region for dog attacks
The National Sheep Association annual survey in March revealed that 70% of the 300 farmers surveyed reported their flocks had been attacked by dogs. This mirrors the NFU Mutual report that dog attacks have increased by 50% since the pandemic. The Midlands was the worst affected region by cost, followed by the South West. The NSA is strongly encouraging all farmers to put up weatherproof dog control signs - which are free to NSA members – particularly in time for lambing. The NSA is also raising awareness among dog owners about the catastrophic effect of sheep worrying by their dogs.