The following local authorities’ requests to extend saved policies specifically aimed at protecting the “best and most versatile” (BMV) agricultural land were not agreed by the Secretary of State:
The Government’s planning policy on best and most versatile (BMV) agricultural land is set out in “Planning Policy Statement 7: Sustainable development in rural areas” (PPS7), published in August 2004. PPS7 replaced “Planning Policy Guidance note 7: The Countryside, Environmental Quality and Economic and Social Development” (PPG7), published in February 1997, which included policy guidance on (BMV) agricultural land.
PPG7 said that, within the principles of sustainable development, BMV agricultural land (defined as grades 1, 2 and 3a) should be protected as a national resource for future generations and its development should not be permitted before opportunities had been assessed for using previously developed or lower grade land.
In December 2000 the Government’s Rural White Paper “Our Countryside: the future”, signalled that policy affecting planning decisions relating to BMV land should be changed. The White Paper said that decisions about proposed development affecting BMV agricultural land should take account of the overall value of the land and that agricultural quality should be treated only as one factor. It therefore proposed that BMV agricultural land should no longer be protected as a national agricultural resource and that decisions about proposed development affecting such land should left to local planning authorities. It also proposed that powers for the Minister of Agriculture to intervene in decisions on BMV agricultural land should be repealed.
PPG7 was subsequently amended by a parliamentary answer given by the then planning Minister the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford) on 21 March 2001 to reflect the White Paper’s policy proposals.
These policy changes were carried forward into PPS7. This asks local authorities that the presence of BMV agricultural land should be taken into account alongside other sustainability considerations when determining planning applications. The policy also says that where significant development of agricultural land is unavoidable, local planning authorities should seek to use areas of poorer quality land in preference to that of a higher quality, except where this would be inconsistent with other sustainability considerations. If any undeveloped agricultural land needs to be developed, the policy requires any adverse effects on the environment should be minimised.