Category: Rural Property & Business

Land and Property Professionals

We sell, rent, manage, survey, plan and advise...what can we do for you?

Bedford: 01234 351000 (Sales, lettings and viewing enquiries)
01234 352201 (Professional services and general enquiries)
Buckingham: 01280 428010

With the continued focus on climate change and meeting net zero targets, there remains strong interest from developers looking for land for renewable energy projects. A letter through the door from a speculative developer, with proposed terms for a battery or solar project, is now common for a lot of landowners.

At Robinson & Hall, we have renewable projects at all phases of development, from early discussions with developers on behalf of clients, to schemes in construction, to completed projects. We provide advice to landowners from the outset of a scheme, through the negotiation of the heads of terms and on to the signing of the lease and option. Where construction of a project is completed, we also assist landowners with checking the rent payments received as these can be complex where they are based on the income from a site.

One project we recently worked on was a 100 acre solar project in Central Bedfordshire. The site comprised arable land, let on an Agricultural Holdings Act 1986 tenancy, close to a Grade I listed church and with a high voltage over head cable and underground gas main crossing the property. On first look, the project looked to have little potential, but the landowners agreed to a 6-month exclusivity period with the developer, agreeing not to speak with any other developers whilst the developer looked into grid connection and scheme feasibility.

During this time, the developer secured a grid connection and designed a scheme, leaving an area of arable land close to the church undeveloped to provide screening for the listed building. We progressed negotiation of heads of terms which included the key terms for the option and subsequent lease. We also negotiated with the agricultural tenant and agreed the compensation which would be payable if a planning consent was successfully achieved for the solar project. It was important to agree the compensation at an early stage to ensure the tenant was on board with the scheme and would provide vacant possession of the land at such time as the developer needed to start construction.

Once the heads of terms were agreed, the developer’s solicitor drafted the option agreement and lease which we and our clients’ solicitor reviewed before being signed by both parties.

Following signing of the option in September 2021, the developer secured planning consent and served the option notice. The lease was entered into in June 2023 and construction works are now ongoing on site. The rent received is 10 x higher than that received previously from the agricultural tenant with annual index linked increases. Our fees, and those of landowners’ solicitor, were covered in full by the developer, meaning the landowners incurred no cost during the project.

As well as solar projects, we have had significant interest from developers looking for sites for battery storage. As a developing technology, battery storage is being looked at as a way of storing energy produced by renewable projects so that it can be used at peak times and further reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. Battery sites can either come as part of a solar project or as a standalone site. As with solar, a grid connection is vital, but the land needed is much smaller than for a solar project.

We have in recent months seen a renewal in interest for sites for onshore wind. This follows the Prime Minister’s easing of the virtual ban on onshore wind sites, which was brought in by David Cameron in 2015. Whilst planning is still restrictive, with the Government focusing still on offshore projects, developers are sensing there may be a change of policy and are looking again at sites which were being considered prior to 2015. The surveys required for wind projects take a number of years and therefore developers are looking to get ahead of any policy change by having the surveys completed and sites ready to proceed.

When weighing up whether to pursue a renewable energy project, it is important to take advice at an early stage. The negotiation of the heads of terms is key as those are the terms on which the option and lease will be based. It is also important to consider which land should be included and the tax consequences of any change of use.

For further information please contact Polly or Andrew.

With a general election around the corner, there is an unusual amount of activity in the area on large scale infrastructure and progress being made on Local Plans, which is briefly summarised below.

In late 2023, Universal Studios announced that they are looking to develop their first European theme park at Stewartby in Bedfordshire, next to the A421. They have the area under their control, largely through the purchase of the freehold of almost 700 acres. This will create between 8,000 to 10,000 jobs. This scheme, which has support both in local and national government, is reliant on the building of the Wixams train station and a new train station for the East West Rail line, together with major upgrade work to the A421. With a combination of infrastructure and jobs, it will provide significant investment in the area and will affect clients far wider than just those in the immediate vicinity. Universal Studios are consulting locally and works could start as early as 2025.

With work coming to an end on the Bicester to Bletchley stretch, some clients have been surprised to receive survey requests from East West Rail Limited. This is in respect of a next phase of the work from Bletchley through to Bedford where there seems to be some need to do surveys on the earlier phase.

For those affected by the new route from Bedford to Cambridge, you will be aware of the proposed route, with a consultation due by the end of June on the detailed alignment. It appears that the land take will be very significant for this new line, partly in relation to biodiversity offsetting and also for long-term maintenance of the railway.

The 2040 Bedford Borough Council Local Plan is currently on hold until January 2025 whilst the Council undertakes further survey work with National Highways in respect of work required to the A421.

The new Milton Keynes Local Plan, for the period through to 2050, is progressing with a first draft due to be published in the next few weeks. However, the areas proposed for allocation of development have been widely circulated through parish councils, giving an indication of the Council’s thinking on the direction of development.

The West Northamptonshire Local Plan regulation draft plan is currently out to consultation until 2nd June 2024. Development has mainly been focused on the larger settlements within the Council area.

When the Buckinghamshire Unitary Authority was formed in April 2020, there was commitment to making a new Local Plan by 2025. This target is going to be missed, with a consultation on strategic growth expected later this summer as a step towards allocating land.

If you require any further information on any of the above and the effect that it may have on your land, then please contact Andrew.

2023 saw a continuation of strong competition for blocks of good farmland and, in particular, for larger complete farms. Unless there is a significant increase in supply of farms to the market, I do not expect this pattern to change in 2024.

The quantity of available farmland rose slightly in 2023 but still remains below historical level. With little pressure from the banks, it remains the instinct of many farmers and of their families to retain land if possible, even if responsibility for the day-to-day farming is given over to a contractor. The family can remain in the farmhouse and can enjoy the amenity of the farm. Diversification projects can be pursued. The taxation advantages of holding farmland have not been eroded. The status quo is appealing to many.

In the meantime, there is a continuous demand for farmland and for farms, both from those within the industry and from without. Landowners who have received a welcome windfall from development sales can quickly find themselves at the end of their 3-year rollover period, at which time sensitivity to the purchase price is dulled. Funds from outside agriculture, particularly for residential properties, is almost limitless.

Accordingly, we have seen that virtually all decent farmland achieved a minimum of around £10,000 per acre last year, but with local competition this price could be pushed to £12,000 per acre, £14,000 per acre or even higher on occasion.

For purchasers with many tens of millions of pounds to spend, of which there is no shortage, a residential farm of 1,000 acres or more is often the target. However, with only a couple of dozen such farms available every year, competition can be fierce.

As I write, the 2024 selling season is just beginning to get underway and we are beginning to see a few farms coming forward. At present, I see no sign that the supply will be much different to last year, and accordingly I would expect to see similar results. Smaller blocks of land will be subject to local competition, which can show a significant variation in prices dependent upon the appetite of the immediate neighbours. Larger blocks will attract interest from across the country, and the expectation is that prices will be in line with the prices which we have seen for the past few years.

At Robinson & Hall, we monitor all farmland sales across the region and larger sales further afield. We are happy to advise on all sales and purchases. Please contact David to discuss further.

In 2018, the Government began to undertake consultations regarding the use of exemption licences at permitted waste sites, with the aim of improving operator competence standards at such sites and reducing the use of the exemptions to cover illegal activity. The consultations raised a series of amendments to be made to the key exemptions that were deemed to encourage poor environmental practice or illegal activity. The proposed reforms make changes to storage limits on waste, the waste that can be used for specific exemptions and to remove some exemptions all together.

Some reforms have already been implemented, such as disallowing multiple exemption licences to be applied for on one site. Further reform on waste records now requires waste operators (i.e. those with a waste exemption licence or environmental permit) to keep electronic records of storage and movement and to provide these on demand.

The new reforms are proposed to come into force in autumn 2024, although a formal date has not yet been released. Each exemption has a specific transition period, setting a period in the months following the reform implementation by which waste operators must conform with the changes. The transition period applies to existing licences and licences registered in the transition period. For those exemptions that are due to be removed, waste operators will be required to apply for an environmental permit to continue these activities.

The table below details the changes to the individual exemptions:

ExemptionReformTransition Period (months)
U1 – Use of Waste in ConstructionChange to waste codes Name change  12
U16 – Using Depolluted End-of-Life Vehicles for Parts  Removal of exemption3
T4 – Preparatory Treatment of Waste by Baling, Sorting, Shredding, Pulverising, Densifying, Crushing, Granulating or Compacting It  Change to storage conditions Name change6
T6 – Treatment of Waste Wood and Waste Plant Matter by Chipping, Shredding, Cutting or PulverisingChange to storage conditions Name change6
T8 – Mechanically Treating End-of-Life Tyres  Removal of exemption3
T9 – Recovering Scrap Metal  Removal of exemption3
T11 – Repairing or Refurbishing Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment  Additional fee for licenceN/A
T12 – Manually Treating Waste  Changes to storage conditions6
T21 – Recover Waste at Waste Water Treatment Works  Change to waste codesN/A
D7 – Burning Waste in the Open  Change to waste codes Name change12
S1 – Store Waste in Secure Containers  Change to storage conditions Change to waste codes12
S2 – Temporary Storage of Waste at a Secure Site Pending Recovery Elsewhere  Change to storage conditions Change to waste codes12
S3 – Storing Sludge  Change to volume of waste required for exemptionN/A

For further information on the waste exemption regulation reforms, please contact Emily.

As large-scale solar and battery projects gain popularity, more and more landowners are being approached by companies who wish to take out option and lease agreements across their land.  Documentation from each company will vary, with some heads of terms being very comprehensive, whilst others are a little more simplistic. Given the number of projects that have popped up in our region, we have put together some pointers on some of the less common factors people need to give thought to before entering into an agreement with a developer.

Most developers will request an initial exclusivity period where the landowner agrees not to engage with any other party whilst the developer confirms grid connection and carries out an initial planning assessment. Thought should be given to the length of this exclusivity period and what surveys, if any, the developer may undertake during that time.

Whilst the prospect of generating renewable energy can be exciting, it is important to consider any existing agreements that you have entered your land into, and the limitations associated with these. With the decline in Basic Payment Scheme payments, more landowners have turned to Countryside Stewardship and the Sustainable Farming Incentive to supplement their income. However, these schemes come with a 3 or 5-year term respectively. It is therefore important to consider the timeframes for each stage of the project – will the solar tenant have achieved planning permission before the end of your land management scheme? Will they be prepared to compensate you if this is the case? Environmental schemes may place limits on the surveys that the solar tenant can do, as you don’t want to be penalised by the Rural Payments Agency because the solar tenant has dug a soil sample out of your flower-rich margins!

There will also be restrictions relating to existing tenancies on the land. It is important to check the termination provisions of such agreements and whether compensation may need to be paid to the existing tenant if the option agreement is acted on during the term of their tenancy.

There is great variation across the board in the value of option agreement payments and lease rents. Additionally, some solar companies will offer a lower rent for a lease but with extra one-off payments. It is important to consider the long-term income potential before deciding whether to take one-off payments or a higher long-term rent.

Solar companies are keen to fix their lease rents for the long term and may try to cap rent reviews in the heads of terms. It is usual to see rent reviews in line with an index, such as Consumer Price Index, but recent high inflation has seen some solar companies try to cap the increases to a certain percentage per year. It is often possible to negotiate at the heads of terms stage.

Decommissioning the site at the end of the lease comes at a cost to the solar company and therefore must be budgeted for. A landowner must ensure funds are set aside so a tenant doesn’t disappear at the end of the lease, leaving the landowner to clear up. Most leases include terms for a ‘decommissioning bond’, under which money is set aside annually by the solar company so that money is available for decommissioning when the time comes. The earlier this payment begins, the less risk to a landlord that they will be left with an issue at the end of the lease. It is also important that the lease includes provision for regular reviews of the bond amount to ensure adequate funds will be held at the end of the lease.

Generally, the developer will cover the landowner’s reasonable legal and surveyor’s fees. However, they will often put a cap on that amount. It is important to ensure the cap is at a suitably high level to cover all your costs up to and including the signing of the lease. The developer should also give an undertaking to cover these costs should the transaction fail to complete, other than where the landowner has acted unreasonably.

As a landowner, it is important to get the best deal as possible, but it can be difficult to see the next steps when looking at pages of legal jargon. If you would like more information on how we can help you to negotiate a solar agreement, please contact our Rural Team on 01234 352201.

On 25th March, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) announced that it would be applying a cap to the amount of land farmers can put into certain Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) actions. This affects those actions which take land out of production, in a bid to protect food security.

The cap of 25% of the holding has been applied to the following actions for applications submitted after midnight on 25th March 2024. Your application won’t be affected if you applied before this.

AHL1: Pollen and nectar flower mix

AHL2: Winter bird food on arable and horticultural land

AHL3: Grassy field corners or blocks

IGL1: Take improved grassland field corners or blocks out of management

IGL2: Winter bird food on improved grassland

IPM2: Flower-rich grass margins, blocks, or in-field strips

If you require assistance with an application for SFI or Countryside Stewardship, please contact a member of our Rural team on 01234 352201.

After the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) announced the gradual removal of the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS), many farmers have turned to environmental stewardship schemes to supplement their income. Now that we are into the delinked payments period, it was thought that the requirement to declare land uses in your fields each year would have ended. However, recent guidance from DEFRA indicates that you will still be required to declare the land uses (cropping) within your field parcels annually, so that options on stewardship schemes can be cross-checked to ensure compatibility with the cropping system.

Essentially this means that if you are in Environmental or Countryside Stewardship, before you complete the annual claim, you must log in to the Rural Payments Agency online service and update the cropping/land use in each field.

For those of you whom we complete the annual claims on your behalf, we will update the land use codes but will need the cropping information from you as we did when completing the Basic Payment application.

Should you need help with updating your land use codes or part of your stewardship annual claim, please contact a member of our Rural team on 01234 352201.

A Red Book valuation is a formal opinion of value provided by a Chartered Surveyor who is a Member of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) prepared in accordance with the RICS Valuation Standards, which are commonly referred to as the Red Book.

The Red Book sets out clear standards that the valuer must follow. It outlines that a valuation is to be undertaken with high standards of investigation, inspection, analysis and justification and can only be carried out by fully qualified RICS Registered Valuers.

When is a Red Book Valuation Needed?

There are many occasions when a Red Book valuation will be required that we can help with. These include:

The high standards required of the Red Book mean that these valuations can be used for legislative requirements and negotiations. The end valuation is a document that is clear, well researched, justified and ultimately useful to the instructing party.

Red Book Valuation or Market Appraisal?

A Red Book valuation differs from a market appraisal, which is an informal opinion/estimate the guide price for a property at sale This is very often carried out by estate agents, with a long-term view of gaining the instruction to market and sell the subject property so may be more focussed on winning the instruction that reporting the correct value.

The Robinson & Hall Team

Robinson & Hall LLP has many RICS qualified Registered Valuers who are able to provide Red Book valuations for a wide range of property types, to include rural, development, commercial and residential.

If you would like to gain more information or obtain a quote, please do not hesitate to contact the team on 01234 352201.

The Farming Equipment and Technology Fund (FETF) provides a contribution to farm businesses to invest in equipment and technology that will help them develop more sustainable farming, horticultural and forestry systems. The fund has now been in existence for two years, and over 3,000 applications were made in 2022-23. However, those that have already received a grant could still be eligible to apply for further funding.

For 2024 applications, the funding has been split into three separate grants as follows:

  1.  £1,000 to £50,000 towards productivity improvement
  2.  £1,000 to £50,000 towards slurry management
  3.  £1,000 to £25,000 towards the improvement of animal health and welfare

As applicants can apply for any of the three grants, each business could receive up to £125,000. Payments received will contribute to 50-60% of the average cost of the item selected (or the actual cost if this is lower). 

The FETF focuses on farmers, horticulturalists, forestry owners and contractors. Please note that not all livestock farming systems are eligible and applicants should make their own enquiries before registering with the scheme. Application for the FETF opens shortly, with two further windows to open later in the year.

Productivity Items

There are now 85 different items that can be applied for under the productivity grant. 24 new items are introduced in 2024, based on feedback from surveys conducted by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA). New technologies and equipment are categorised by farming system and include a tractor-powered electric desiccator for weed and plant control, a mobile tractor-powered livestock total feed ration mixer, and a forestry harvesting head with bark stripper.

Popular productivity equipment continues to be a robotic drill and guided hoe, automatic tree planters and a robotic silage pusher.

Slurry Management Items

There are now 17 different items of slurry equipment that can be applied for. Following feedback from the DEFRA surveys, the specification for the equipment has been widened to allow screw press, screen press and mobile separators.

Animal Health and Welfare

There are now 130 animal health and welfare items that can be applied for, including 29 new items.

Applications are scored based on their contribution to the Animal Health and Welfare Pathway priorities. Applicants can boost their application by 20% by proving they have discussed the items applied for with a vet.

Popular health and welfare equipment continue to be handling systems, disinfecting equipment and remote monitoring systems.

Application Details

Applicants should check their eligibility before applying for grants under the scheme. Each item applied for is assigned a score out of 100. When the applicant sends in their grant application, the scores for each item are added together, and divided by the number of items applied for. This average score is then used to rank applications; funds will be granted to the highest scoring applications first and will continue down the list until the quota for that application window is reached. However, do not worry if your application is rejected in one application window, as you are eligible to reapply at later application windows in the year.

Payments from the grant are received in arrears, meaning that you must prove you have the funds to cover the full cost initially. Applicants cannot utilise money from other UK public funds, lease or hire purchase schemes. Applications cannot be made for items which are brought using part exchange, second hand or ex demos, items bought on hire purchase or lease, or items already purchased prior to application. Claiming the grant can only occur once the item has been paid for, delivered, installed and made operational.

If you are interested in applying for the scheme or wish to request more information, please contact a member of our Rural team on 01234 352201 or email bedford@robinsonandhall.co.uk

The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 introduced a cut-off date of 1st January 2026, after which time historic public rights of way cannot be recorded. However, the Government has now extended the deadline for this cut off to 1st January 2031. This affects landowners, as there is generally significant public interest from people who enjoy accessing the countryside and want to ensure that there are no historical public rights of way lost.

Additionally, after the cut-off date, the Definitive Map will not be able to be changed to correct any historical errors. This means that if a route for a public right of way is shown incorrectly, a landowner will be unable to apply to have this corrected. It is therefore important that if a landowner believes routes are recorded incorrectly they act now, especially as local highway authorities tend to have a large backlog of cases.

A new public right of way can be recognised when a route has been used for at least 20 years without interruption. The onus is on the landowner to prove that they have actively tried to prevent third parties from acquiring rights over their property. One way this can be done is by erecting signs and notices which explicitly state that public access is prohibited, but they must be maintained and located close to the land that they are looking to protect. Similarly, locking gates and/or blocking the access to routes which are not public rights of way can help to express that the landowner does not want that section of land dedicated as a public right of way.

If a landowner gives the public permission to use a particular route as a permissive right of way, the public’s ability to claim it as a public right of way is limited. This may be useful if there are particular routes which the landowner is willing to allow the public to use but where they do not want that right to become permanent. It is important to document permissive paths and also erect signs on the land confirming the use of the route is by permission.

Other ways in which a landowner can protect against new public rights of ways being created is through completing a landowner statement under Section 31(6) of the Highways Act 1980. They can also complete a statement under Section 15A of the Commons Act 2006 which works in the same way as a Section 31 deposit but against new applications for village greens. The statement is submitted to the local authority and allows a landowner to legally protect themselves against inadvertently granting any new rights of way on their land. Effectively, the landowner draws a line in the sand to prevent commencement of any new 20 year periods of use.

We can prepare the required documents required under S31 (6) and 15A on your behalf.  For more information or to find out how our Rural Property & Business department can help you please contact 01234 352201 or 01280 428010 or email bedford@robinsonandhall.co.uk