We had an interesting case recently when farming, development and planning came together, where a farmer strips the top soil off land where he has planning permission for residential development before development starts. He decided to strip the top soil in preparation for a Phase II ground investigation report (this was one of the planning conditions). Removing the top soil would aid ground investigations and it is in itself is a valuable resource.
He moved the stripped soil 600m and regraded a nearby field, filling a shallow hollow and adding a thin layer of top soil on ground that produced poor grass and that cropped poorly. The site was re-seeded and within a couple of months had greened over.
Moving the soil was brought to the attention of the Council’s Enforcement Team by neighbours who had objected to the housing development. Had the farmer given the council Prior Notification of his intention to move the soil, it could have been approved using Agricultural Permitted Development. He did not do this and a full planning application had to be made. As part of the planning application he had to test the soil, as the area has a history of lead mining.
The application attracted no objections from statutory consultees such as Highways and the Environment Agency.
There were vociferous objections from neighbours and the Parish Council. The application went to planning committee with a recommendation for approval. Neighbours spoke against the application and because their case was thin tried to impugn the planning team and the system for being biased against them and suggested that the planning process had not been undertaken properly. The local Ward Councillor also spoke against but when he questioned me (the Council allows councillor’s to ask questions of the applicant or agent) it was clear that there was no case to answer. The application was approved.
It raised an interesting issue, what would the council do if it did refuse the application? If the top-soil was returned to where it had come from it would then have to be removed in order to allow residential development to take place. At that point the applicant would use his rights under Agricultural Permitted Development to move the soil back. There would be no grounds to refuse.
The main purpose for the objectors was to cause trouble for the farmer, and to an extent they succeeded as the farmer paid for Planning & Design Practice to make the planning application; he paid out to test the soil, we then had to rebut the comments made by objectors and the parish council and speak at planning committee. This all cost money. During the process we maintained close co-operation with planning officers which proved to be very important in a case like this.
For landowners, particularly farmers, once development is approved, it is realistic to consider that some objectors will continue to try to make life difficult, so sticking to the rules (or even finding out what the rules are) can minimise costs and future conflict.
Jonathan Jenkin, Managing Director, Planning & Design Practice Ltd