Woodland for Sale With Planning Permission

Whilst many people dream of buying woodland and building a house there, legislation means that such an idea must largely remain in the realm of dreams. It is unrealistic to buy woods with planning permission granted for certain activities in the hope of getting consent for a house later. For a dwelling house to be viable it must pass stringent tests of business viability and functional need: with woodland used for mainly recreational or conservation reasons, permission is extremely unlikely.

This article investigates the current market for woodland, which has been massively impacted by the pandemic.

It gives:

• an overview of the demand for woodland in 2021

• an assessment of permitted development in woodland

• information on how planning consents operate in woodland

• commercial options to consider from woodland

If the idea of owning woodland appeals and you want to find out more, read on!

Demand for woodland

2021 was a record-breaking year for woodland and forestry, according to Edward Daniels, Head of Forestry at John Clegg & Co. who said that the forecast for the sector remains very strong. He said: “The commercial forestry sector is attracting unprecedented levels of interest from large institutional investors, such as pension funds, and other new entrants for whom Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) considerations are a priority.

“The market for parcels of mixed, broadleaved woodlands is also strong and demand is now outstripping supply, with the properties frequently sold either to an early offer in excess of the guide price or a round of competitive bidding after the rapid setting of a closing date.

“Buyers can have a variety of motivations. However, since the onset of the pandemic, we have seen individuals’ desire to own their own slice of the beautiful British countryside, with a number of first-time buyers now entering the market as a lifestyle choice. These types of buyers are purchasing woodland for the peaceful relaxation and sense of well-being they can offer in today’s world and therefore, factors like location, look and feel have become increasingly crucial, making it a much more subjective market than commercial forestry.

“However, this is not the only driver. For some, the recreational and amenity opportunities a woodland can offer is its great appeal and, for others, as pressure mounts to tackle the climate crisis, it is conservation and biodiversity objectives that are driving interest. Individuals are seeing maintaining and improving woodland as a chance to do their bit in the battle against climate change. Therefore, it is unlikely we will see demand decrease as we head into 2022.” 

Permitted Development in woodland

Buildings required for use in connection with forestry purposes are allowed under permitted development: they can include sheds, stores, or offices. Hobby forestry comes under this umbrella; there is no requirement that the forestry must operate as a trade or business. To qualify as permitted development, a building cannot be used as a dwelling, be within 25 metres of a classified road and must be “reasonably necessary” for forestry purposes. Permitted buildings must be designed for their purpose: a building capable of providing overnight accommodation will require a formal planning application.

Owners are allowed occasional overnight stays in their woodland under permitted development legislation. On a holding of over five acres, up to three caravans can be sited at any one time if the site is not used for this purpose for over 28 days in a year.

Providing that it is not for residential use, it may be possible to use a caravan for forestry purposes, such as storage, shelter for workers or as an office as it falls outside planning controls. The caravan must be under the size limit: 60 feet long, 20 feet wide and 10 feet high. There is an allowance for forestry workers to live in caravans in woods to carry out seasonal work.

Installing an access track is also a permitted development providing that it is for forestry purposes and not recreation. Even if a scheme comes under permitted development, the Local Planning Authority (LPA) must be contacted beforehand via the Prior Notification Procedure so that it can be verified. The LPA will assess the effects of the development upon the surrounding area and may request further details.

Factors to consider when owning woodland with planning consents

Purchasers of woodland with planning permission in place should examine the conditions carefully to ensure they meet their requirements, and consult the LPA regarding plans for any development over and above that existing at the point of sale.

Existing planning consent can have a significant bearing on the woodland; the conditions may be designed to maintain sustainable, resilient woodland and if a purchaser wants to carry out works to trees, consent may be needed even if a planning application is not. A felling licence or an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) may be required.

Planning permission is not required for forestry work except where a Tree Preservation Order (TPO) is in place. It is required for non-forestry uses of land or buildings or any other development.

Felling trees on development sites

Such work requires a felling licence from the Forestry Commission unless an exemption applies. Where full planning permission is granted and standing trees impede the approved development, there is no need to specify the trees to be felled in the application, however, to fell standing trees outside the approved footprint of a building requires clarification in the planning application and permission must be approved. A licence may include a replanting requirement.

Tree Preservation Orders (TPO’s)

LPA’s administer TPO’s and felling a tree with an order on it requires planning permission or a felling licence. Breaching the regulations may result in a Notice being issued requiring the land to be restocked with trees which must be maintained for 10 years.

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)

The LPA may require an EIA if a proposed scheme impacts on wildlife and habitat. If an EIA is if not required, consent may still be needed if the scheme involves afforestation, deforestation or creating forest roads.

Commercial options to consider in woodland

Rural diversification

Woodlands are viewed as suitable areas for commercial recreation; whilst permitted development rights exist for the benefit of the forestry industry, the government wants to encourage woodland-based enterprises that add to rural diversification. Innovative schemes in areas of little recreational provision may be worthy of investigation in conjunction the local authority.

Wood processing

Enterprises such as logging and sawing tree trunks on a small scale may not require consent, but larger operations might: for clarification, consulting the relevant LPA.

Next steps

Before purchasing woodland, or when considering removing trees in woodland, a tree survey or EIA may be required from a specialist company such as Arbtech Consulting Ltd.https://arbtech.co.uk/contact-us/

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