An agricultural occupancy condition, also known as an agricultural tie, is a tool that is used to limit who is lawfully allowed to occupy a dwelling in the countryside. It will typically restrict the occupancy of a dwelling to a person who is principally employed, or was last employed, in agriculture in the local area.

For existing dwellings, the existence of an agricultural occupancy condition can have an impact on the value of the property to which they attach. However, the use of such conditions can assist with obtaining planning permission for building new dwellings in the countryside.

Burges Salmon has written about agricultural occupancy conditions in more detail and in particular, means of having them removed, in The Pink Book 2: The Burges Salmon Guide for Landowners and Farmers.

Though there have been no substantial changes in the law since the latest, 2014, edition of The Pink Book 2, there are a few events worth noting.

Meaning of the word ‘dependant’

Agricultural occupancy conditions do not only apply to an agricultural worker but also to those who are a “dependant” of that worker. The Court of Appeal considered the definition of a “dependant” in the context of agricultural occupancy conditions in 2015. In Shortt v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the court found that the word “dependant” was not just related to financial dependency, but had a broader interpretation.

In this case, the family lived in a house subject to an agricultural occupancy condition. The wife was the agricultural worker who ran the farm, but this was operating at a loss. The husband worked elsewhere and the family was dependent on his income. The court held that the husband was dependent on his wife and found the definition of “dependant” was widened to include a husband or wife who was not financially dependent on the other and so the husband was held to be dependent on his wife for the purposes of the condition.

This decision has very serious implications for anyone looking to rely on non-compliance with a condition as grounds for removal of that condition. It will not be enough to show that an agricultural occupation has been given over to “hobby” or small scale agriculture. Arguably the principle is also capable of wider application.

Market testing

It is possible to remove an agricultural occupancy condition though the applicant will first need to demonstrate certain things. This includes adducing evidence that the property has been marketed for sale or rent, at a substantially reduced price, to agricultural workers in the area for a significant period of time.

In April 2019 the Planning Inspectorate emphasised that evidence of a robust marketing exercise is essential when applying to remove a condition. This related to an application to remove an agricultural occupancy condition at Sutton Springs Trout Fishery Grounds. The Inspector found that there had been sufficient marketing of the property as it had been consistently publicised online, included in various publications and promoted in mail campaigns. The agricultural occupancy condition was therefore successfully removed.

This decision is illustrative of what level of marketing is acceptable and adds to the tips provided by the Upper Tribunal in the case of Rasbridge, Re Cefn Betingau Farm in 2012. The Tribunal found the applicants' market testing exercise was not sufficiently rigorous and suggested that the applicant should have:

  • offered to rent the property in order to establish if there was rental value to the land;
  • advertised the property in the specialist farming press; and
  • made adjustments to reflect general market movements.

High value property

The Sutton Springs decision also indicated that, in deciding whether to remove an agricultural occupancy condition, significant weight should be placed on the fact that eligible rural workers were not able to afford the property. That property was even marketed at a significant discount, without success.

Though each case will depend on their specific facts, the decision suggests that an agricultural occupation condition on an expensive (due to its size or its location) property stands a better chance of being removed.

Update to procedural guidance

There is procedural guidance on planning appeals concerned with the removal of an agricultural occupancy condition attached to a planning permission.

This was updated in 2016 and includes details of additional information that the Inspectorate is likely to require for such appeals. For example, this includes evidence of demand or lack of demand for agricultural dwellings in the area, asking price or rent of any vacant agricultural dwellings in the same neighbourhood and details of the history of the site.