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Planning Permissions – agricultural occupancy conditions

A recent case, Shortt v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government [2015] All ER (D) 180 (Nov), involved an assessment of who a “dependant” was in relation to an agricultural occupancy condition.
In 1994 Mr and Mrs Shortt bought a farmhouse which was subject to a condition, imposed in 1975, which limited occupation of the farmhouse to those who were involved in agriculture and their dependants. There was no dispute that Mrs Shortt was involved in agriculture but the farm was not financially viable and Mrs Shortt relied on the income her husband generated from non-agricultural uses.  Mr and Mrs Shortt therefore asserted that Mr Shortt was not a dependant and that they had therefore been in breach of the condition for so long that it was no longer enforceable.  Mr and Mrs Shortt applied for a certificate of lawful use which would confirm that the house was no longer subject to the agricultural occupancy condition.
The case was first decided by a Planning Inspector and ended up in the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal agreed with the Planning Inspector that the word “dependant” was not just related to financial dependency and had a broader interpretation.  The Court decided that the degree of financial contribution made by Mrs Shortt was not important.  The purpose of the condition had been to ensure that agricultural workers had somewhere to live and on that basis the condition had worked and still applied.  The condition had not tied the occupancy to a particular agricultural business or to a level of financial sustainability.
This decision is different from a House of Lords view on “dependants” but that decision was made over 50 years ago and the social and economic context has changed. The question of dependency will now need to be assessed in light of this Court of Appeal judgment.
For further information or advice on agricultural matters, please contact our specialist team.