A new local land charge was created on 29 November 2022: the Conservation Covenant.
Conservation covenants are agreements relating to the conservation of certain features of land. They have been created as local land charges to overcome the limitations on enforceability of ordinary land covenants, for example, the need for the covenant to be restrictive in nature (or otherwise be protected by a restriction on title requiring a deed to comply with a positive covenant) and for the covenant to be given for the benefit of clearly identified retained land.
A conservation covenant is a private, voluntary agreement between a landowner and a “responsible body” that enables the landowner to guarantee the long-term protection of the land and to ensure the conservation of natural or heritage features on it.
The landowner is the owner of the freehold interest in the relevant land or the owner of a leasehold interest granted for more than seven years.
Responsible bodies may include local authorities, other public bodies or conservation charities.
Under a conservation covenant, the landowner promises to meet specific conservation obligations. These may be positive obligations, for example, to carry out particular activities or to manage land in a specific way. They may also be restrictive obligations, for example, not to carry out works or excavations. Either way, the covenant must have a “conservation purpose”.
A “conservation purpose” is one which is to conserve the natural environment of land or the natural resources of land, to conserve land as a place of archaeological, architectural, artistic, cultural or historic interest, or to conserve the setting of land with a natural environment or natural resources or which is a place of archaeological, architectural, artistic, cultural or historic interest.
The obligations of the landowner under a conservation covenant are owed to and are enforceable by the responsible body that is party to the relevant agreement. Subject to registration of the agreement as a local land charge it is automatically binding upon any person who becomes a successor in title of the landowner or who derives title under the landowner or its successor.
One of the anticipated uses of conservation covenant agreements is in respect of biodiversity net gain. This is an approach to development (enshrined in the National Planning Policy Framework) that improves biodiversity. Other anticipated uses for conservation covenant agreements include ensuring that open land is kept as a nature reserve for public use, protecting wild habitats and preserving the architectural features of a building.
It will be some time before this new form of local land charge appears on local search results but developers and their advisers need to be alert to such agreements as they will prevent or at least limit development or the way in which it is to be carried out.