Agricultural Occupancy Conditions - Court of Appeal Test Case

Planning conditions which require occupation of rural housing stock by agricultural workers are relatively common and affect some of the country’s most picturesque homes. However, many of them have been in existence for generations and can be viewed as a serious inconvenience by modern occupiers.

A successful businessman and his ‘hobby farmer’ wife had lived in their farmhouse for more than 20 years. The property was subject to a condition which stated that only persons employed locally in agriculture, and their dependants, could live there. Whilst the husband was a stellar earner, the wife’s farming activities on land surrounding the farmhouse had consistently made a loss.

The couple argued that, as the wife was financially reliant on the husband, rather than the other way around, he could not be viewed as her ‘dependant’ within the meaning of the planning condition. If that was right, it would mean that the husband and the couple’s two grown up children had always been living in the property in breach of the condition. That having been the case for more than 10 years, it was submitted that the condition had become unenforceable.

However, those arguments failed to persuade the local authority which refused to grant the couple a certificate of lawful use pursuant to Section 191(2) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. Their challenge to that decision was rejected by a planning inspector and, subsequently, by the High Court.

In rejecting the couple’s appeal, the Court of Appeal cited the example of a baby’s dependence on its nursing mother in finding that ‘dependency’ can be emotional as well as financial. The couple’s dependency on each other was mutual and did not depend on the wife making a financial contribution. It was agreed that the wife fitted the description of a person employed in agriculture, even though her farming business was almost never profitable.

The ruling meant that the agricultural occupancy condition had never been broken and thus remained binding on the couple. The lawfulness of the family’s continued occupation of the farmhouse thus depended on the wife’s involvement in agriculture and her husband and children were only entitled to live there as her dependants.