Protected Agricultural Tenant Must Make Way for ‘New Town’ Development

The special protection against eviction enjoyed by many agricultural tenants can be overcome if a landlord can show that the relevant land is ‘required’ for some other purpose. The question of what constitutes such a ‘requirement’ was addressed in a High Court case on which proposals for a major residential development hinged.

A farmer whose tenancy was protected under the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986 was served with five notices to quit by his landlord. Three of them were later upheld by an arbitrator. The notices required him to quit his home and hundreds of acres of farmland he held under leases dating back to the 1960s.

The arbitrator reached his decision on the basis that the landlord required the land in order to implement a planning permission for the construction of what was in effect a new town of 7,000 homes. The project, which included five new schools, roads and other infrastructure, was to be carried out in phases over a period of 20 years.

Ruling on the tenant’s challenge to the arbitrator’s decision, the Court noted that, in order to be ‘required’ within the meaning of the Act, the relevant land had to be so required at the end of the period stated in the notices to quit or within a relatively short time thereafter. It was not enough for the landlord to state that he would require the land in the more distant future or at some as yet unascertained time.

Although it was accepted that some of the land affected by the notices would not be developed for a number of years, the Court found no error of law in the arbitrator’s conclusion that the landlord genuinely required it. It was open to the arbitrator to find that there was a present requirement for the land for the purposes of earth moving, storage and infrastructure works. He was also entitled to conclude that the landlord intended to develop the land and had a reasonable prospect of doing so.