Policies needed to tackle land use pressure, warns CAAV

Rapid population growth will put intense pressure on land use in the UK over the next 20 years, but so far there are no balanced policies in place to manage it.

According to the Office of National Statistics the UK population is likely to increase by 10 million people by the early 2030s, putting it up to 75 million. That has far-reaching implications, warns Jeremy Moody, secretary and adviser at the Central Association of Agricultural Valuers (CAAV). “It will increase demand for housing, employment, food production, infrastructure, and competition for resources such as water and amenity land.”

Speaking at his inaugural lecture as Professor of Rural Land Management and Policy at the Royal Agricultural University on 10 March, Prof Moody said the population increase was likely to be overwhelmingly in the South and East of England. “And it not obvious that anyone has usefully focussed on what will be needed as civilised and practical answers for this growth.”

One pressing concern would be water, said Prof Moody. “With 5.6 million homes in areas at risk of flooding, the immediate prospect may be to downgrade development land to lower value uses. The longer term issue is whether some properties or settlements remain viable or require relocation.”

However, there was tremendous potential to use rural land to manage excess water. “That may be by changes in use to slow water movement down, to hold water, or prevent the loss of soil and nutrients.” But government bodies would have to find a way to pay for such management practices, he warned.

The CAAV was currently working on ways to value different land uses and the soil itself, which was a hot topic given the conflicting demands for land use. “On a large scale is the government’s drive for infrastructure and housing, which could empower those developing projects like HS2 to compulsorily purchase land for residential development at existing use value, which has enormous implications for landowners.”

Commodity markets that were no longer volatile but just depressed posed a major challenge to farming, said Prof Moody. “We need to look closely at both managing the risks that businesses face and improving their rewards. Specialising in farming may no longer be the standard answer.”

It may be that producers looked to switch away from basic commodity production, he added. “Moving downstream, whether by developing the business or forging links, is a way of stepping outside the commodity markets, but it requires new skills and perspectives.”

To meet the conflicting demands for land use in the future, all rural professionals and policy makers would have to look ahead and adapt, said Prof Moody. “Experience suggests that necessity is a key driver of change. Over the past 100 years, the work of CAAV members has broadened enormously with the business of the rural economy. The rural profession seems better placed than many to adapt again to these new pressures, and we will continue to work to find practical answers to the challenges of tomorrow.”

Editors’ notes

The Central Association of Agricultural Valuers (CAAV) is a specialist professional body representing, qualifying and briefing over 2700 members practising in a diverse range of agricultural and rural work throughout England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

CAAV members are agricultural and rural valuers who provide professional advice and valuation expertise on issues affecting the countryside from tenancy matters to sales and purchase of farms and land, from taxation and compulsory purchase to auctioneering, and from conservation issues to farming structures.

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