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The New Electronic Communications Code

As we move further into the digital age, telecommunications technology continues to make significant advances. To reflect these advances, the government has confirmed that they are planning to implement substantial changes to existing telecommunications legislation by introducing a new updated Electronic Communications Code (“the Code”).

The Electronic Communications Code was originally enacted in 1984 in order to give telephone companies a statutory basis to install and keep landline equipment on land. This meant that even if a landowner refused to permit the installation of telecommunications equipment on their land, operators had the power to apply for a Court Order overriding the landowner’s wishes. Due to advances in digital technology, the Electronic Communications Code is now widely thought to be outdated, overly complex and difficult to apply. The government hope that the introduction of the new Code (as part of the Digital Economy Act) will promote investment in new communication technologies and provide operators with the freedom to expand and improve their networks.

The Flood Facilitation Fund

Clients may be interested to read that farmers in the north of England are currently benefitting from the Countryside Stewardship Facilitation Fund Scheme, a programme which enables individuals or organisations from the farming, forestry and other land management sectors to apply for funding to develop and strengthen natural flood defences on their land.

The scheme came into being in the wake of the devastation caused by the winter storms of 2015 / 2016, which left many holdings significantly damaged.

Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) 2017

Farming clients may already be aware that the application window for the BPS 2017 submission process is now open. The 2017 application process builds upon the 2016 process, but clients need to be aware that it is not identical. We have therefore listed some key points below to assist with applications:

  • The application deadline is 15th May and the NFU is advising clients to apply early in order to ensure that the Rural Payment Agency (RPA) receives their application before the deadline. You can apply, make land and entitlement transfers and commons land changes now, so why wait?!
  • It is now possible to make a number of Pillar 2 scheme applications and annual claims online.
  • If you applied online in 2016 please bear in mind that you will not receive any paperwork in the post this year. Information will instead be emailed to you by the RPA. Paper applications will only be issued to those who did not use an agent and applied on paper last year.
  • The NFU is advising that online land data may now have been updated and so farmers should check carefully to ensure that the online mapping of their holdings and the number of entitlements held are correct.
  • It is also important to print off and save electronically a copy of your submitted application, together with the online notification receipt, in order to avoid any issues with discerning the claims position at a later date.

Drone Technology Hitting New Heights

The recent explosion in the popularity of drones has not escaped the agricultural world, with many farmers recognising the benefits that this technology can bring.  Agricultural businesses are utilising drones for a range of purposes from the surveillance of crops and boundaries to the monitoring of arable and pastoral stock.

With the use of drones rising, how exactly does drone technology interact with the laws of property?  If you are a frequent drone user or a landowner affected by drone usage, you should consider the following property issues and protections.

Interfering with Rights of Way

Land owning clients will be well aware of the various issues that private rights of way can cause. The subject of rights of way is highly complex and consequently there is a great deal of case law on the subject. Clients may be interested to note that the High Court has recently decided a curious case which has helped to further clarify exactly what is classified as substantial (and therefore actionable) interference by a land owner with an existing private right of way running through their land.

In this case, a Mr and Mrs Jordan bought a property with a track crossing it, the track being subject to an existing right of way granted in 1960 to the neighbouring property, Kingsgate Farm. When the Jordan’s purchased the property there was an electric gate at the entrance to the track off the main road, which opened by pushing a button and closed automatically, provided it was not obstructed. Further along the track there was a second gate which was unlocked.

Boosting Barn Conversions

With only 226 barns converted in the past year, it is fair to say that barn conversions are on the wane.

It is believed that the increase in Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) on second homes (implemented last year by the Government) is largely behind the decline, as the substantial increase in SDLT will affect everyone who already owns a home, and is converting a barn or building on their land into a residential property.

The Countryside Stewardship Woodland Creation Grant Manual 2017

Agricultural clients may be interested to note that Natural England has now published their Countryside Stewardship Woodland Creation Grant Manual for 2017. The manual summarises the workings of the grant, including who is eligible to apply, how they may do so and the obligations imposed on successful applicants.

The Woodland Creation Grant is a stand-alone capital grant under Countryside Stewardship for woodland creation. There are alternative woodland capital grants available and clients can find further information relating to these at: www.gov.uk/government/collections/countryside-stewardship-woodland-support.

Agricultural Brexit Update

It seems that, since the monumental vote to leave the EU in June this year, there have been few visible developments to date (other than the weakening of Sterling), lending a growing feeling of uncertainty to the commercial market.

By contrast, the agricultural market is currently experiencing an unexpected boost, largely as a consequence of commodity prices rising (due to the fall in Sterling) and the improved competitiveness of UK exports, and it is thought that this will continue for at least the foreseeable future.

RPA announces start date for milk production reduction scheme

The RPA (Rural Payments Agency) has announced that the voluntary milk production scheme began on 11th September 2016.

The voluntary scheme is designed to provide financial support to farmers across the UK who reduce the amount of cow’s milk that they deliver to wholesale purchasers during a three month period (known as the reduction period). This reduction period is compared with the same 3 month period in the previous calendar year (known as the reference period). The scheme is funded by the EU as part of its broader package of support for farmers facing market difficulties.

Defra publishes summary of changes to the rules on reporting livestock movements

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has recently published a summary of changes to the rules on reporting livestock movements, including a new form to be used by farmers wishing to apply for a Temporary Land Association (TLA) or a temporary County Parish Holding (CPH) number in order to use land forming part of their holding on a temporary basis for keeping livestock.

Sporting and country estate fined following conviction for health and safety breach

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) are Britain’s national regulator for workplace health and safety. On 15th July they reported that they had successfully prosecuted a country estate after a 61 year old employee, who was acting as a flanker in order to funnel grouse towards the line of guns and stop birds flying out of the side of the drive, was hit by shotgun pellets.

Summer update in Agricultural Law

Whilst public attention has been understandably focused on the monumental unfolding of Brexit, in the background government departments have continued to process domestic regulation and guidelines relating to internal agricultural and environmental issues. Agricultural clients will find the below topics of particular interest:

EU confirms intention to extend deadline by which member states must make direct payments

On 8 June 2016, Phil Hogan, European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, confirmed the intention to extend the date by which member states may make Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) direct payments ( www.practicallaw.com/8-542-1765)  from 30 June to 15 October 2016. This extension means that payments can continue to be made after 30 June without the application of any penalty reductions for late payments.

HS2 North West Drop-in Events

HS2, the new high speed railway for Britain, have announced plans to reveal the route of the railway line between Crewe and Manchester this autumn. HS2 have decided to hold various drop-in events to enable members of the public to find out more about the project and exactly what this will mean for their local area.

Permitted Development Rights: Change of Use of Agricultural Buildings to Residential

Clients may be aware that the Use Classes Order 1987 now permits the change of use of agricultural buildings to certain other uses, without the need to submit a specific planning application. The idea behind these permitted changes of use is to provide opportunities for development diversification in rural areas through the re-use of farm buildings.

Manuals for 2017 Mid Tier and Higher Tier Countryside Stewardship now published

As of 14 March 2016, farmers and land managers are now able to apply for the Mid Tier and Higher Tier of Countryside Stewardship (agri-environment land management schemes in England which were brought in under the Rural Development Programme and offer payments for farmers and land managers who manage their holdings to protect and enhance the environment and local wildlife). Funds are available for projects such as restoring habitats, improving water quality and woodland, reducing flood risk, protecting landscapes, and providing year-round food and shelter for pollinators, birds and other wildlife.

New ‘Magic Map’ data helps with Countryside Stewardship applications

Defra have recently provided new data to help farmers and land managers thinking of applying for Countryside Stewardship with their application.

Their MAGIC Map, which holds data on the natural environment from across government, has just released new data sets on Countryside Stewardship. The data is designed to aid applicants in identifying the priority areas on their land and help them to discern what part of the scheme they’re best placed to apply for.

Agriculture: Tax Update 2016

Income tax: farmers’ averaging extended to five years from 6 April 2016

Those operating in the agricultural sector will be aware that ‘farmers’ profit averaging’ is a tax relief which currently enables an individual farmer to make an averaging claim where their trading income profits fluctuate from one year to the next (under the Income Tax (Trading and Other Income) Act 2005 (“ITTOIA 2005”)). From 6 April 2016 the existing rules will be amended by The Finance Bill 2016, enabling farmers to choose between two-year averaging and five-year averaging. The amendments also remove two-year averaging marginal relief.

Rural planning – reviewing the planning system in rural areas

Clients may be aware that the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (“the Committee”) have recently announced a ‘call for evidence’ in relation to the current rural planning review, stating that they will consider the views and opinions of various parties in relation to the effectiveness of the current planning system in rural areas and potential improvements that could be made.

Right to rent checks – pitfalls for Landlords

The ‘right to rent checks’ introduced by the Immigration Act 2014 came into force on 1 February 2016. This means that from 1 February 2016, private landlords in England will be required to carry out right to rent checks on prospective tenants and other authorised occupiers (i.e. checking whether the individual has a right to be in the UK) when granting a tenancy. This will also apply in the agricultural sector, and clients who rent property to seasonal agricultural workers should be especially aware of the implications of the legislation.

Tax pitfalls of collaborating to sell land

Tax problems

Landowners intending to dispose of property often collaborate by way of a contractual collaboration agreement to increase the total plot size and the development potential and to maximise profits available on the disposal, but tax issues can become a problem. The purpose of this blog is to identify some of the problems associated with such collaborations and propose some alternative methods of collaboration to avoid some of the potential pitfalls.

LEADER Programme Launched

Clients will be pleased to learn that the LEADER programme was officially launched in England on 14 October 2015. The programme provides £138m funding in order to create more jobs and boost the rural economy. Grants will be awarded through each of the 80 Local Action Groups (LAGs) who have all been allocated a proportion of the fund.

Rural Development Grants Launch

Clients may already be aware of the EU’s rural development policy (RDP) which was established as the second pillar of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), in order to assist the rural areas of the EU to meet the challenges of 21st century farming.

The Growth Programme was implemented in 2015 to provide funding for projects in England which create jobs and help rural economy growth. The Growth Programme offers various opportunities for rural businesses to apply to run projects backed by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, under the RDP.

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