Thursday, 28 April 2016

Property spring review

The 60 mile/60 minutes from London formula, otherwise known as the ‘golden radius’, is a widely acknowledged force in the housing market.  So it was interesting to read research recently published which has calculated that for every one minute’s journey time by train from London into the surrounding commuter belt, house prices go down by £3,000 – ie the longer the journey, the lower the house price - with the usual caveats when dealing with averages, of course.

Looking at where our buyers are currently coming from, we continue to experience strong demand from local buyers and those from Essex and London.  However, a new strong trend has emerged over the past year with buyers from Buckinghamshire favouring our county.  In addition, expats from the Middle East - who are now experiencing job uncertainty owing to falling oil prices - are migrating home.

It makes a lot of sense for Buckinghamshire buyers to choose Suffolk.  According to Rightmove, the average price of a detached house in Bucks is £590,812 against an average detached house price of £333,642 in Suffolk.  Our area also has the benefit of trains taking us direct to Liverpool Street and, hence, The City, whereas from Buckinghamshire trains terminate at Paddington or Marylebone.

We had a rush of buyers looking to complete on purchases prior to 1 April and the introduction of the new stamp duty surcharge on second homes.  The second home market and buy-to-lets are likely to be quieter in the short-term now as the market digests this additional taxation.

The London second home buyers favour Suffolk for its escapism, cultural offerings and gently rugged landscapes.  These buyers tend to live in North London, eg Hampstead but also – and surprisingly – from the less conveniently accessed, West London, eg Notting Hill.  Our Coastal region is especially favoured by profile figures in the media and cultural arts.

The keenest tier of the current market is for village houses in a price range of £600,000 - £850,000.  It is a property style and bracket which sees buyers with young families compete with those who are downsizing, as well the second home buyers. Quality stock in pretty villages with amenities is moving quickly.

Caroline Edwards
Residential Sales, Long Melford

T: 01787 888622

Flexibility for the occupation of houses

A Court of Appeal decision suggests there is now more flexibility for the occupation of houses subject to an agricultural occupancy restriction than previously thought. 

This could have implications on those who may now qualify to legally live in such a property and in turn have a positive impact on its value.

The appeal in the case of Shortt v Secretary of State (2015) concerned the meaning of “dependants” in an agricultural occupancy condition attached to a planning permission of the property in which the Shortt family lived. 

The condition stated: “The occupation of the dwelling shall be limited to persons employed or last employed solely or mainly and locally in agriculture as defined by Section 290(1) of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1971, or in forestry and the dependants (which shall be taken to include a widow or widower) of such persons.”

The farm was run by Mrs Shortt, but her husband had an independent business which in practice supported the farm. In reality Mrs Shortt spent less than a day per week on the farm which had never made a profit. 

It was therefore questioned whether the family’s occupation of the property complied with the agricultural occupancy condition, as the husband and children were not financially dependent on Mrs Shortt as an agricultural worker.

However, the Planning Court and Court of Appeal decided the family’s occupation did comply with the agricultural occupancy condition.  This was on the basis that the reference to dependency in the planning condition did not have to mean financial dependency - the support provided to the family as a wife and mother meant that the agricultural occupancy condition was complied with.

On the face of it this may open up the possibility of properties subject to such a condition being sold on the open market to a much wider cohort of society than has been the case before, which in turn may increase the value of these properties. 

Conventionally it has been considered that because of the occupancy restriction, such a property would be worth about 30 per cent less than a similar property without such a restriction. This level of discount may now be brought into question.

However, this could be a double edged sword as in some instances the owners of such properties look to get the tie lifted on the grounds there is no longer any demand for the property subject to the tie.  But if the potential qualifying occupiers of the property are now rather more widely cast, it may be increasingly difficult to prove that demand no longer exists.

We will have to wait and see how the market interprets this new case law before we can detect its full impact on the type of people legally living in agriculturally tied property and the value of the property itself.

James Stephen MRICS FAAV
Rural Practice Chartered Surveyor, Wells

T: 01749 683381

Thursday, 21 April 2016

DEFRA and red tape

It seems hard to credit that farmers were until recently banned from carrying out simple maintenance of ditches without applying to the Environment Agency for consent.

This is an example of the ridiculous red tape that can be imposed without understanding the consequences and I welcome the news that DEFRA secretary Liz Truss has seen the error of this crazy policy.

As a result farmers across England can now undertake low-level work on their own land without needing to seek EA consent. DEFRA recognised the paperwork was an unnecessary burden on farmers and this would allow the EA to focus their efforts on wider strategic flood-risk management.

The exemption only applies to man-made ditches, land drains, agricultural drains and previously straightened watercourses but it does not apply to natural rivers.  This will be particularly welcome on the Somerset Levels where the maintenance of ditches is vital to the farming systems.

The new flood risk activity permits allow farmers to dredge and maintain ditches up to 1.5km long without needing to fill out extensive forms.

Liz Truss said the government wanted to ensure farmers had the right conditions to thrive, which would include providing them with the means to protect their land from flooding.

“That is why we are cutting red tape for our hard-working farmers,” she said, “reducing flood risk and allowing them to do low-level maintenance work without unnecessary paperwork.”

DEFRA are keen to emphasise that this empowers local people with the best knowledge of local risks of flooding to clear waterways themselves.

However, strong safeguards will still be put in place to limit the impact of some activities – for example protecting Sites of Special Scientific Interest and spawning fish.

The move to relax the rules follows successful pilot schemes run over the last couple of years which showed that farmers and landowners can carry out this work in an environmentally sensitive way.

So we have a sensible relaxation of unnecessary red tape destined to achieve very little for anyone and no doubt the EA do not have the staff to enforce such rules.

James Stephen MRICS FAAV
Rural Practice Chartered Surveyor, Wells

T: 01749 683381

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership

Bureaucrats do enjoy creating clunky names and here is a fine example. But keep reading as this one has money to give away.

The Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership (HotSWLEP), which covers Devon, Plymouth, Somerset and Torbay is one of 39 LEPs created across the country following the Coalition Government’s Local Growth White Paper of October 2010.   

They replaced the role of the Regional Development Agencies which were disbanded simultaneously but the LEPs have taken too long to develop anything like an effective role.
This is largely because the Government gave little or no guidance, leadership or financial support to help the LEPs develop. 

The HotSWLEP (a snappy little acronym) is a partnership managed by a voluntary board consisting of business leaders, alongside representatives from local government and educational institutions. They work together to lead and influence the economy of Devon, Somerset, Plymouth and Torbay by improving economic growth and job creation.

The HotSWLEP’s key achievement has been the award of the highest allocation of funding in the country in the second round of the Growth Deal - £65.2 million - and the LEP aims to use this to deliver transformational growth in the South West.

However, the big question for most businesses is how can we access any of this money?
In recognition of this difficulty the HotSWLEP is about to launch a new Growth Hub which will be available for all businesses, whatever size or sector, to include farmers and other rural businesses, in the Heart of the South West area.  

The Growth Hub will be a single point of contact, free at the point of access, for all businesses seeking advice and support on any issues relating to the operations and aspirations of their business and signposting to international, national or local resources. 

Enquiries can be about anything that business owners may wish to ask - whether they are looking for information on new funding opportunities from grants or loans, where to go for tax advice or help with their expansion plans, innovation or export. 

A core value of the Heart of the South West Growth Hub is to simplify the often confusing range of local and national, public and private sector business support services that are on offer in the UK, so that businesses can make an informed choice about what type of support is best for them. 

The signposting service is offered free as part of the HotSW LEP’s Growth Deal funding, and the expert business support advisors will be on hand to deal with questions themselves or refer to experts in specialist areas.

Providing a top-quality, seamless business support service is a major part of the HotSWLEP’s strategy to generate transformational economic growth through a range of initiatives that will help businesses grow, including infrastructure improvement, skills development and inward investment.

Businesses can email or phone 03456 047 047 to register their interest. Alternatively visit the interim website and complete our business support enquiry form:

James Stephen MRICS FAAV
Rural Practice Chartered Surveyor, Wells

T: 01749 683381