Paragraph 112 of the NPPF states:
“Local planning authorities should take into account the economic and other benefits of the best and most versatile agricultural land. Where significant development of agricultural land is demonstrated to be necessary, local planning authorities should seek to use areas of poorer quality land in preference to that of a higher quality.”
What does ‘significant’ mean in this context, though? In (DCS Number 400-014-946) an inspector appears to have interpreted it as meaning ‘a lot’. In this case nine dwellings were allowed on agricultural land adjacent to the built-up area of a village in Kent. The council was unable to show a five-year supply of housing land, and the inspector found that the visual harm could be partially mitigated by landscaping. He recorded, however, that the site comprised around 0.49 hectares of Grade 1 (excellent) agricultural land. Nevertheless, he reasoned that whilst the NPPF expresses a preference for development on non-BMV land, it does not preclude development on BMV land.
Bizarrely, he also came up with this: ‘Perhaps the most compelling argument here is that the land is not currently in agricultural use and therefore there would be no loss of BMV.’
Yes there would. If fertile land is built on it is made sterile forever.
He continued, ‘The view expressed by some that the site could potentially be used for arable farming, is not a good one in principle as it could be applied to a wide range of sites to the further detriment of housing supply.’
But, national policy favours the use of poorer quality land over the best land and, as far as we know, no evidence had been provided to show that no poorer quality land was available.
He concluded, ‘Even if the land was in agricultural use, the loss of 0.49 hectares would be relatively small and could not reasonably be described as significant in the terms set out in the Framework.’
Given that the meaning of ‘significant’ is a matter of interpretation we can’t argue with this conclusion but we do take issue with the reasoning.
The following DCP chapter is relevant: 4.145