Spalding 01775 842505 Nottingham 0115 9454447
Peterborough 01733 898975 Newmarket 01638 564137
Out of hours 01775 842630 Click here to e-mail

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Chancel Repair Liability notices - don't take them as read

It is always worth checking whether notices from the Land Registry are well founded, particularly if they are about a potential liability for chancel repair.  Ask to see the evidence, do your own research, do not be afraid to challenge the notice if the evidence does not stack up. It may well turn out that the evidence does stack up; at least you will know that (and save the next generation having to return to the question).

We have an instructive case study here.

If you have received Land Registry a notice about Chancel Repair Liability and would like to discuss the implications, get in touch with Julie Robinson in the first instance, on 01775 842618 or by email.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Protecting Your Assets: Five Essentials for Landowners' Autumn "To Do" Lists

We shared a platform with Savills and Duncan & Toplis yesterday evening, at the impressive Kelham Hall in Nottinghamshire. Below are the notes from one of the talks we gave to the farmers, estate owners and managers that attended. The focus was on property, and what practical steps owners can take to protect their assets.

Here are the steps in brief.

1.    Do a Landowner Statement
  •  Protect yourself in advance from tactical town and village green claims in the event your land is earmarked for development. Statements are good for 20 years (they need to be renewed within that period) and bring to an end any ‘as of right’ periods of recreational use.
  • Do your Highways Statement at the same time and on the same form. As from 1 October 2013 sworn statutory declarations are no longer necessary.
2.   Check your Shooting Agreements  
  • Protect your position. We have seen a number of shooting leases where the landowner has  inadvertently granted a business tenancy with a right of renewal because the procedures for  contracting out of the Landlord & Tenant Act 1954 have not been complied with.
  • Watch too for TUPE and housing consequences of changes in gamekeeper arrangements.
3.   Double-check official notices (e.g. about chancel repair/mineral rights)
  •  Ask the party responsible for the notice to provide evidence. We have recently seen a ‘manorial rights’ notice removed once it became clear there was no documentation to support the applicant’s claim. 
  • It can be worth checking pre-registration deeds and documents. In a recent case, a landowner who received a chancel repair notice from the Land Registry was able to produce an old deed under which a predecessor had bought out (“compounded”) the liability. You can find more details here
4.   Watch for tenancies and contracting agreements that bridge 1 January 2015
  • Make sure your agreements build in the flexibility needed to cater for life under new CAP regime – in relation to both direct payments and rural development.
  • For example, do the definitions cover the Basic Payment Scheme and greening? Is there a requirement for the tenant to renew his “ELS” agreement in due course? (not possible for standard ELS!)
  • In longer term contracting agreements, who is responsible for making sure greening requirements are met? Who carries the cost of greening measures?
5.   Short-term cropping and grazing: tear up old documents!
  • For 2014-15 arrangements, documents should anticipate and reflect the new CAP rules and language (the broad framework rules will be adopted in mid-December).
  •  Subject to the final implementing texts, the regulations allow for more flexibility than before as far as qualifying agricultural activity goes. Agricultural activity includes maintaining an agricultural area in a state which makes it suitable for grazing or cultivation without preparatory action going beyond usual agricultural methods....
  • Save on photocopying costs and invest in up-to-date, regime-ready agreements!

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Manorial rights and the 12 October ‘deadline’

Since midnight on 12 October, manorial rights have no longer been overriding interests. An overriding interest is an interest in land which binds buyers or owners of land even if it does not appear on the register.

In short, midnight on 12 October is not a get out of jail free card. Landowners will take free from un-noted manorial rights (and similar interests) only after they have bought land for value or, if the land is unregistered, after they have registered it. 12 October also marked the end of the Land Registry’s ‘no charge’ policy for applications to protect these interests by notice or caution.

Equally, there is no automatic deadline of midnight on 12 October by which landowners who have received unilateral notices about manorial rights must challenge the notice. An application to remove a unilateral notice can be made at any time.

For further information, see our previous Manorial rights – should you be worried about them? post. Alternatively, contact Julie Robinson on 01775 842618.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Town and Village Green registration : Act now to protect your assets

Protecting your land against registration as a town or village green by those opposed to its development has – as from today, 1st October – become a little bit easier in England. It does, however, need action from you as landowner (or landowner’s professional adviser). You will need to deposit a ‘landowner statement’ and map with the appropriate registration authority.
Done properly, this - together with payment of the appropriate fee -  will bring to an end any ‘as of right’ period of recreational use. (An area of land may be registered as a town or village green if it is shown that the inhabitants of a locality, or a neighbourhood within a locality, have used the area ‘as of right’ for a period of at least 20 years for the exercise of lawful sports and pastimes.)
To maintain the protection, the landowner statement will have to be renewed within 20 years of the initial deposit, and at 20-year intervals after that.
At the same time, the procedure for making s31 highway deposits  has changed. Firstly, the renewal  period has been extended to 20 years from 10, bringing it into line with the new town/village green regime. Secondly, there is no longer a requirement to make a statutory declaration in front of a commissioner for oaths, JP or solicitor; instead a ‘statement of truth’ must be completed.
Landowner statements and highways statements can be made using the same application form. Again, this makes life a bit easier.
Here, for information, is a copy of the application form from one authority which has updated its information pages, Hertfordshire County Council. HCC has set a fee of £250 per application (with an extra £20 payable for any additional notices that need to be put up).
We have already been discussing these changes with some of our clients and will be assisting in depositing both landowner and highways statements. Let us know if we can help you; in the first instance contact Julie Robinson (01775  842618) or Sarah Whitehurst (01775 842508). 

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

AWB abolition: doing nothing is not an option

We are fast approaching 1st October 2013, a significant date for farming businesses in England that employ agricultural workers. As from 1st October the comprehensive employment framework that has laid down minimum wages and other terms of employment in agriculture for almost 100 years falls away and leaves farming employers in a vacuum. 

Only there is not really a vacuum. There is general contract law, there is general employment law (including the minimum wage) and there is your longstanding relationship with your workers.

Given that, it would be a mistake to do nothing at all. In some cases it might land you in trouble under minimum wage legislation (the national minimum wage is set to increase from 1st October to a level which is higher than the current Grade 1 pay for ag workers over 21 years old and for some apprentices – a wages standstill is not possible). 
In all cases, you could lose the opportunity to reach agreement with your workers on wages and other terms (overtime, holidays etc.) and how they will be dealt with post AWB abolition – that also gives you a chance to minimise the differences in how old and new workers are treated.

At the very least, being a good employer means acknowledging the change and letting your staff know how it will affect them.

In other words:

doing nothing is not an option.

We know that this time of year is not a good time to be sitting in the farm office writing letters and having discussions with workers. To help you get the ball rolling, Roythornes has produced a short template letter for employers to send to their workers ahead of 1st October.

We also have a tiered advice package, offering different levels of involvement and price depending on your circumstances. Details are here, in our AWB briefing note.

If you have any questions about how AWB abolition will affect your business or you would just like us to email the template letter to you, please contact either:

Maz Dannourah, on 01733 898967 or at; or

Phil Cookson, on 01733 898970 or at

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Should farm businesses have a social media policy?

Tesco has one, law firms have them, but few farm businesses do. Should they?
Farms are one of the most dangerous places to work.
Don't tweet and drive!
 (Don't worry, this is a mock-up, courtesy of Lamma 2013)
Whereas, for office-based businesses, social media 'issues' tend to be about using work time for keeping up with news from your friends and family, for farm businesses another issue comes to the fore: safety. Machinery and messaging your mates don't mix; handling livestock and your handset at the same time is a recipe for disaster.
How can farm businesses lay down some guidelines to make sure safety isn't compromised? One answer is to have a social media policy that sets out clearly where the lines are drawn, and to refer to it when necessary.
Our employment and agriculture bods have put their heads together and drawn up a template social media policy for farm businesses, where workers have their own devices but do not have access to the farm’s own computer systems. Its main focus is on the health and safety aspects of smartphone use around farm machinery and livestock.
You can download the template here.
Clearly, one size does not fit all situations and we strongly recommend that you review the draft against the specific needs of your own business to make sure it works for you.
If you would like further advice about this policy – how it can be adapted to your specific circumstances, when and how it can be introduced, or what to do in the case of serious or repeated breaches, please get in touch with Maz Dannourah on 01733 898967 (

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Designation of flood risk management features - one year on

It is almost a year since the 'designation of features' elements of the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 came into force. The Act itself came out of the Pitt Review that followed the widespread floods of 2007. One of Pitt's recommendations was that local flood authorities (and similar bodies, like IDBs) should list and take steps to protect physical assets which are relied on for flood (and coastal erosion) risk management but are privately owned.

This designation process is now happening. It is estimated that over 60,000 physical features e.g. walls, embankments and other 'raised features' (mounds, banks etc.) could be available for designation. Once a feature is designated, it will be registered in the local land charges register. Owners will then need to seek the consent of the authority before altering, removing or replacing the asset.

If you are the owner of a structure or feature, you:-

•  will be consulted in writing before the asset is designated; and

•  have a right to appeal against the initial designation.

'Owner' includes the relevant landowner or, if different, the person responsible for managing or controlling the structure or feature (e.g. depending on the terms of the tenancy, a tenant in occupation).

We are not aware of a raft of letters going out from local authorities, IDBs or the Environment Agency over the last year notifying owners of potential designations. Resources are tight and there are plenty of other demands on these bodies. However, as local flood risk management strategies are reviewed, it may be that there will be a move to get these private assets registered.

If you receive a letter talking about the Designation of third party structures and features for flood and coastal erosion risk management purposes, let Julie Robinson know in the first instance. There are opportunities to appeal if you believe your particular feature should not be designated.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

All change at the Agricultural Land Tribunal

Last month we saw the abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board in England. This month we have seen the demise of the seven agricultural land tribunals in England, specialist bodies known to few outside the farming community. Agricultural land tribunals have been a one-stop shop for a various landlord/tenant and land drainage disputes for over 50 years.

But in contrast with what has happened with the Ag Wages Board, the functions of the ALTs are not being abolished. They have simply been transferred to a new umbrella tribunal, the snappily-named First-tier Tribunal (Property Chamber)

Below is a short Q&A.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Life After the Agricultural Wages Board

We have now had formal confirmation that  25 June will mark the end of the Agricultural Wages Board in England. The current Agricultural Wages Order will remain in force until 1 October 2013.

From 1 October employers will be free to engage new workers on  terms and conditions that are unbound by what many in the industry view as the sometimes rigid framework imposed by the old ag wages legislation.

How does the new regime compare to the old?

Below are just a few of the expected differences between the old and new regime, although some or all of the existing AWO provisions may remain in place depending on legislative amendments and how they interact with current employment contracts.


Where and when can I find out more?

We are holding a “Life after the Agriculture Wages Board” breakfast seminar on Tuesday 10 September 2013 in Spalding, Lincs. It is for employers in the arable and horticulture sectors and will offer focused, practical advice about how AWB abolition affects businesses. It will cover the position in relation to both new and existing workers.

We are expecting demand for the seminar to be high. To express your interest and reserve a place, please email

In the meantime, if you have any questions at all about the implications of AWB abolition for your business, please do give Phil Cookson a call on 01733 898970.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board - Advice for Employers

"The Agricultural Wages Board for England and Wales is abolished."

With those ten words section 72 of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 brings to an end almost a hundred years of agricultural wages board history. The first boards were set up in 1917 in tandem with the introduction of subsidies for cereals production.

"not without controversy"

The plan to abolish the board has not been without controversy (see our last update here), but the die is now cast and it only remains for the Secretary of State for Business Innovation and Skills to make the Commencement Order that brings section 72 into force.


When will this happen?

Not just yet, but our understanding is that the Agricultural Wages Order 2012 will be the last, and that from 1 October 2013 ag and hort businesses will be operating in a new, AWO-free, landscape. The latest news is that the necessary Order is expected be made on 25 June.

Just to give an idea of why things can't necessarily be pushed through overnight, over 60 amendments to existing legislation are needed in order to remove provisions that relate to the outgoing wages regime.


What are the implications for employers?

As in other sectors of the economy, agricultural employment will be covered by national minimum wage legislation and the working time regulations.

Where new, post-AWB employees are concerned, employers will be free to negotiate terms and conditions unbound by what many in the industry view as the outdated and sometimes rigid framework imposed by the old ag wages legislation.

Where existing workers are concerned, employers cannot simply ignore the old AWO terms. They should take specialist advice before seeking to amend contracts. Ignoring the general protection the law affords to employees could land employers on the wrong side of an employment tribunal claim.

Businesses planning to take people on between now and 1st October may be able to build some flexibility into their standard contracts that takes the upcoming change of regime into account.

Where can I find out more?

The NFU has a dedicated AWB page on which it posts updates and general advice. The NFU also plans to publish a set of indicators to help employers in future wage reviews.

From the Roythornes side, we are holding a breakfast seminar on Tuesday 10 September 2013 in Spalding, Lincs. It is for employers in the horticulture sector and will offer focussed, practical advice about how AWB abolition affects them.

We are expecting demand for the seminar to be high. To express your interest and reserve a place, please email us.

In the meantime, if you have any questions at all about the implications of AWB abolition for your business, please do give Phil Cookson a call on 01733 898970.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Update on CAP Reform: hot from the press conference

EU farm ministers met yesterday morning to discuss the new direct payments regulation. Simon Coveney, the Irish Farm Minister, held a press conference at lunchtime to give an update on progress. (The Irish hold the Presidency of the Council for the first half of 2013.)

This was against a background of intensive discussions between the three key players in these CAP reform negotiations: the Council (made up of farm ministers from member states), the EU Commission and the EU Parliament. The discussions - or trilogues - are aimed at hammering out a compromise on issues which still divide the parties (e.g. on how greening should be implemented).

What's new?

Nothing, as such, but there were some interesting indications of compromise in-the-making on one or two of the outstanding issues.
Both the Irish Presidency and the Agriculture Commissioner said they were optimistic that an overall CAP package would be agreed at the next Ag. Council in June. The aim of yesterday's session was to narrow down the number of issues on which there needs to be a 'political' negotiation and compromise in order to get a whole package agreed.

On young farmers, there is still not consensus about whether there should be a compulsory scheme under which young farmers receive a top-up payment. Some countries maintain that they don't have a problem as far as new entrants go (perhaps they have there own schemes) and should not be required to have a young farmers scheme. The UK is among those member states resisting the idea of a compulsory scheme.

One of the other areas up for discussion was the active farmer question. Again, the crux of the debate is whether measures to prevent what are effectively non-farming businesses receiving direct payments should be compulsory. The alternative is for member states to be left free to decide whether to implement a 'negative list'. Dacian Ciolos, the Agriculture Commissioner, is committed to an EU-wide approach; if a golf course or airport is banned from receiving CAP payments in one country, the same rule should apply in other countries too. The UK is, again, against a blanket approach.

One of the possible compromises mooted at the Council meeting yesterday was the idea of a shorter negative list that would be mandatory across the EU, with member states free to add further non-qualifying activites to the list.

Simplification, it seems, ends up being sacrificed in the search for consensus.

So now we wait. Trilogues between the Council of ministers, the EU Parliament and the EU Commission continue, with the final showdown on 24-25 June. We're not expecting firm details about the shape of the new package to arrive with any great certainty before then. But given what we heard about the solution mooted on active farmers, we envisage that a pick n mix solution may prevail over a hard-boiled approach on other questions too.

If you would like further information, or to discuss how the current CAP reform might affect your farm business, call Julie Robinson on 01775 842618.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

The Model Trustee: a Roythornes podcast

Graham Smith speaking on "The Model Trustee"
Accepting an invitation to be a trustee is not for the fainthearted. Graham Smith, partner at Roythornes, and acknowledged expert in taxation and trusts, suggests you should think about it at least six times before saying yes! If, having thought about it, you do say yes, you will need to spend some time investigating and understanding what your duties are.
If you don't have time to spend hours reading learned tomes, this podcast is a good starting point. It is a short introduction to "The Model Trustee", a talk given by Graham (in his own inimitable style and in a tweed suit) at our recent Down on the Farm: Partnerships and Trusts and getting it right... seminar. The number of farmers and professionals who attended the seminar is testimony to how seriously people take their trustee responsibilities.

Enjoy the podcast. And if you have any questions, or we can help in any way on trust matters, get in touch with Graham directly on 01638 564130.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Renewable energy for all?

A few days ago we joined forces with Fisher German's renewables experts to run a seminar for our clients and others with a serious interest in renewable projects.

There was certainly no shortage of energy in the room. Far from it, almost everyone who came through the door had a particular project in mind, across the range of technologies.

That's hardly surprising. With the number of non-water industry anaerobic digesters now above the 100 mark, the National Non-Food Crops Centre is  upbeat about prospects for new plants, particularly where agricultural feedstock is concerned. On the solar park front, Roythornes acted for Lark Energy on their groundbreaking devleopment at Wymeswold in Leicestershire, the largest solar park in the UK, and which was connected to the grid earlier this month. As far as on-shore wind is concerned, Fisher German's Mark Newton - one of the experts at our seminar -  predicted as early as April  2010 that every farm would have a wind turbine within 5 years.

Not for everyone?
However, we acknowledge that not all landowners like wind farms. Some are genuinely worried about changes to our rural landscapes; others don't agree with the notion of subsidy for alternative energy.

As professionals - and subject to conflict of interest constraints -  we advise clients on the legal issues thrown up by their plans, or the plans of others, and then we fight their corner.

What's clear for now is that food and farming businesses across the country have an abundance of opportunity to develop alternative, diversified income streams and reduce waste. Without doubt there is still a head of steam behind renewable projects of different sizes and technologies. Our job, as and when we are instructed, is to pursue the best outcome for those who instruct us.

If you would like to discuss a renewable energy project, please call your usual Roythornes contact or, alternatively, get in touch with any member of our renewables team.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Manorial rights - should you be worried about them?

Manorial rights are one of the more arcane aspects of land law, but that doesn’t mean they can be ignored, particularly with a Land Registry deadline for their registration looming.

What are they?

Before 1926, in addition to freehold land and tenanted land, there was also a form of tenure called copyhold. A copyholder held his rights in land from the lord of the manor and the lord of the manor had certain manorial rights which he could exercise over the land.

Some copyhold land was converted into freehold land in the nineteenth and early twentieth century and all remaining copyhold land was automatically enfranchised on 1 January 1926. When the land became freehold, certain manorial rights may have been reserved by the lords of the manor, mainly in connection with mines, minerals and sporting activities.


Why does it matter now?

At the moment these manorial rights ‘override’ the interests of the landowner, whether or not the landowner is aware of their existence. The Land Registry has made it its mission to close down this kind of gap in the official register by setting a deadline – 13 October 2013 – before which overriding interests such as manorial rights must be registered. If they are not protected at the Land Registry before that date, the rights will lose their ‘overriding’ status. That means they lose their automatic protection. In other words, if someone buys registered land after 12 October 2013 and there is no note on the register protecting manorial rights, the buyer will take free from any such rights that exist.


Do I have to do anything?

There are two sets of circumstances that demand action.

The first is if you believe that you have the benefit of manorial rights. This is not an exercise for the fainthearted and is likely to require persistence. It is not simply a question of writing to the Land Registry with your claim; the Registry will need to see convincing evidence of, for example, your title to the manorial rights claimed and the previous copyhold status of affected land. The starting point may be a deed of enfranchisement that shows a reservation of particular rights in favour of the lord of the manor.

The second is if you receive a notification from the Land Registry or someone else who claims that they hold, for example, the rights to the minerals under your land. In the case of the Church Commissioners, we are seeing notices from the Land Registry that the Church has applied to register its ownership of mines and minerals under land held by someone else.

In either of these cases, you should take specialist legal advice about your options. In the first instance call your usual contact at Roythornes, or call Julie Robinson on 01775 842618.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Pawson: Upper Tribunal rules against the taxpayer on holiday lettings

Hotly debated and long-awaited, the Upper Tribunal decision in the Pawson case has been published. And it is not good news for the taxpayer. The Tribunal found that the deceased’s holiday bungalow had been held “mainly as an investment”. As a result, business property relief from inheritance tax was not available.


Mrs Pawson owned a ¼ share in Fairhaven, a large bungalow overlooking the sea on the Suffolk coast. Her three children owned the rest between them. For more than two years before her death the bungalow had been let as a holiday cottage.

Following Mrs Pawson’s death, her executors claimed that her share in the holiday cottage consisted of “a business or interest in a business” and was “relevant business property” under s103 (1)(a) of the Inheritance Tax Act 1984. As such, it was eligible for business property relief against the inheritance tax that would otherwise have been due.

HMRC disputed this and argued that Mrs Pawson’s share in the holiday bungalow did not qualify as relevant business property because – if it was a business at all (they initially disputed this) – it was a business that consisted mainly of holding investments.

At Issue

The main question considered by the both the First and Upper Tribunal boiled down to this:

Was the holiday letting business in which Mrs Pawson had an interest a business which consisted mainly of holding investments?

If it was, then the property was disqualified from being relevant business property by s105 (3) of the Inheritance Tax Act 1984, which says:

A business or an interest in a business … are not relevant business property if the business … consists wholly or mainly of … making or holding investments.”

Monday, 28 January 2013

Green about the Green Deal?

The Government’s Green Deal is up and running.

Householders are able to sign up to finance plans from today, 28 January 2013, as are landlords and tenants in the private rented sector. There is even a first-come, first-served cashback scheme to encourage early uptake; that, too, will be available to residential landlords and tenants as well as householders.

The basic aim of the Green Deal, the Government’s flagship energy efficiency initiative, is to remove the up-front costs of energy efficiency measures. The driving principle is that improvements to properties pay for themselves through the savings that result.

To achieve this, the Green deal involves a pay-as-you-save financing mechanism which is available from accredited Green Deal providers. The liability for repayment of the Green Deal financing will attach to the property’s energy bills (and will fall on the person who is liable to pay the bill).

How do I get Green Deal finance?

Make sure:-

1. the energy efficiency measure you are planning is eligible (a Green Deal assessor will advise on this);

2. it is suitable for the property concerned (again, the assessor will decide this);

3. it meets the golden rule (i.e. that the resulting savings in gas and electricity bills will pay for the improvements).

The Green Deal will not be for everyone. But it is worth getting to grips with the detail and seeing whether it stacks up in your own circumstances. Landlords may be approached by residential tenants and will – eventually – be prevented by legislation from unreasonably refusing consent to make energy efficiency improvements. At the same time, the introduction of minimum energy efficiency levels in parts of the private rented sector from April 2018 makes this a good time for landlords to take a serious look at what the Green Deal offers. Green deal plans will have to be disclosed when properties are sold and let out.

If you would like to discuss the implications of the green deal as far as agricultural property is concerned, give Julie Robinson a call on 01775 842 618.

Another sensible first port of call would be the Energy Saving Advice Service on 0300 123 1234.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Agricultural Wages Board - has the axe been axed?

Save the AWB protestors outside the Oxford Farming Conference

The House of Lords Grand Committee voted on amendment 28ZK to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform bill on 16 January. That was an amendment to the effect that the Agricultural Wages Board for England and Wales should be abolished.

At Grand Committee Stage, unanimity is needed before alterations to bills are made. The Grand Commitee were not unanimous in relation to the amendment. Indeed there were numerous voices raised against the proposal to abolish the AWB during a lively debate.

Is that the end of the road for the Government's plans to abolish the AWB?

No, it isn't. There will be a further chance to amend the bill when it reaches report stage in a few weeks time.

Watch this space for news.

In the meantime, if you have any questions at all about the implications for your farm businesses of a change in the regulatory framework that governs the employment of farm workers, please do give Phil Cookson a call on 01733 898970.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

On CAP Reform, entitlements and simplification

Owen Paterson talking about his vision for the CAP
at the Oxford Farming Conference in January
Britain's membership of the EU has been the hot topic over the last few days. It is no coincidence that the Defra Secretary of State, Owen Paterson, took to his keyboard today to answer questions on CAP Reform during a web chat hosted by the Farmers Guardian.
Mr Paterson has strong views on income support payments for farmers and has made no secret of his long term wish to see the CAP become more of a common environment policy than a common agricultural policy, with so-called 'Pillar 1' direct payments phased out in favour of payments for public goods. (We wonder how this fits with the EU environment policy that already exists under the treaties, but that is a debate for another time.)

Encouraging steer

More to the point today was the encouraging steer from the Secretary of State regarding his plans to ensure that there is as little change as possible as far as the nuts and bolts of the new scheme go.

One of the things that has concerned us at Roythornes is the uncertainty created by a long transitional period between the current scheme and the new basic payment scheme. We recently published our Winter update on CAP Reform that covered this in more detail.

We have been particularly worried about the uncertainty created for new farm businesses or restructured businesses which were not SPS claimants in 2011. Under the initial reform proposals published by the European Commission back in October 2011, any farm business that did not make an SPS claim in 2011 would not be entitled to an automatic allocation of the new entitlements that were set to be allocated in the first year of the new scheme. Instead, they would have to rely on the national reserve/private contract clause/inheritance and similar safety-net mechanisms that are far from guaranteed.

However, there is now a proposal on the table to allow countries like England, which have a flat-rate payment scheme in place covering almost all eligible hectares of land, to carry through existing entitlements to the new scheme. That is good news as far as it goes.

The big question is whether Defra will take up this option.

We asked the Secretary of State the question during today's web chat. To be precise we asked:

"Is the Secretary of State planning to take up the option to maintain existing entitlements in England? Doing so will reduce bureaucracy and simplify the introduction of the new scheme significantly, but an early steer on this issue is vital to enable expanding or new farm businesses to plan with certainty."

The Secretary of State replied:

".. .emphatically yes. We want to try to keep to the existing system as much as possible and keep things simple for claimants and the RPA."

If Mr Paterson's 'emphatically yes' means yes in practice, that can only be good news for the majority of farmers in England. We cannot yet be certain that the option to keep current entitlements will make it into the final package - which is still some way off being agreed. But it is certainly encouraging that the Secretary of State genuinely seems to be aiming for simplicity as far as he can (and as far as simplicity is ever possible when it comes to agricultural support regimes).

If you have any questions at all about how the current reform of the CAP might affect your business, please give Julie Robinson a call in the first instance. She is on 01775 842618.