Shop early for Christmas

There are sixty-eight shopping days till Christmas. 

Perhaps it is a bit early to be buying a Christmas tree but readers might be interested to hear that an inspector has granted prior approval for a barn conversion in Gloucestershire after ruling that the growing of Christmas trees falls within the definition of agriculture (DCS Number 400-027-574).

The council contended that as the barn was used in conjunction with the applicant’s forestry business it could not benefit from the provisions of GPDO Part 3 Class Q, which requires that the building has been in agricultural use. The appellant argued that the term ‘forestry’ had been incorrectly applied to Christmas trees, in part because of the lack of a clear definition in planning law. The inspector found merit in this argument and therefore considered whether the activity of growing Christmas trees constitutes ‘forestry’ or ‘agriculture’, noting that to qualify for Class Q the site had to have been used solely for an agricultural use as part of an established agricultural unit on 20 March 2013. 

Firstly considering the definition of forestry, the inspector recorded that for the purposes of paragraph 2(9) of Schedule 5 of the 1990 Act, forestry is defined as ‘the growing of a utilisable crop of timber’. The Oxford English Dictionary, the inspector continued, states that it is ‘the science and art of forming and cultivating forests and management of growing timber’. The ‘UK Forestry Standard: the government’s approach to sustainable forestry’ (2017) is consistent in stating that forestry is the science and art of planting, managing and caring for forest. Further, a ‘forest’ is defined by the OED as an extensive tract of land covered with trees and undergrowth, and by the UKFS as generally large tracts of land, under stands of trees. 

Christmas trees are grown for decorative purposes, the inspector remarked, rather than for timber and in this he found a significant difference between the purpose of the enterprise and forestry. He did not consider the small scale of the Christmas tree farm (where approximately 200 Christmas trees were grown) to be a large tract of land, as would be typical for a forest, concluding that the activity of growing Christmas trees on such a scale was not forestry.  

Turning to the definition of agriculture, the inspector noted that ‘agriculture’ is not defined in the GPDO so the definition in section 336(1) of the 1990 Act prevails in the absence of any indication to the contrary. This states that agriculture includes, amongst other things, horticulture, market gardens and nursery grounds, and the use of land for woodlands where that use is ancillary to the farming of land for other agricultural purposes. 

The inspector found a strong parallel between growing flowers that are grown for decoration, typically cut at the point of sale, and Christmas trees. He considered that cut flowers could be defined as either market gardening, which is typically a small-scale operation selling fruit, vegetables and flowers, or horticulture, which relates to the cultivation of a garden. The inspector also noted that the HMRC Business Income Manual states that most Christmas tree production is from specialist producers or from farmers who grow the trees as a crop, and that these farms are nurseries and thus fall within the statutory definition of ‘market gardening’. Although developed for a different purpose, the inspector gave some weight to this definition in so far as it was clear that Christmas trees are not, in the opinion of HMRC, born of ‘forestry’. 

Regardless of exactly which agricultural category was chosen, the inspector was satisfied that because the growing of trees was on a small scale and for decorative purposes, and was integrated with indisputably agricultural activities which included raising poultry and producing hay, the overall enterprise was agricultural. 

The inspector concluded that the proposal met the requirements for prior approval and was permitted development under Schedule 2, Part 3, Class Q of the GDPO. 

Section 4.3441 of DCP Online explores the planning definition of agriculture.