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Cpre south West Local Development Framework seminar 24 March 2010 Annex: Evidence on Best and Most Versatile agricultural land

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CPRE South West

Local Development Framework seminar

24 March 2010

Annex: Evidence on Best and Most Versatile agricultural land

NB This note updates our briefing to branches in June 2009
Agricultural land classification

  • Best and Most Versatile (BMV) agricultural land includes areas identified as Grades 1, 2 and 3a of the Government’s Agricultural Land Classification (ALC). Natural England has updated a DEFRA leaflet on the ALC - Technical Information Note TIN 049 – which is useful background .

  • The ALC system was modified in 1988, to make it more "scientific" and the sub-division of Grade 3 was reduced to 3a and 3b (3c abolished). Extra care is needed in use of pre-1988 data. Although the changes made in 1988 should not result in major change, they may result in change at grade margins and in critical cases there may be a need for new survey.

National and regional policy

  • Current national policy for consideration of BMV land is set out in the remaining parts1 of PPS7 Sustainable development in rural areas (2004) paras 28 and 29. A consultation paper Planning for a Natural and Healthy Environment was published in March 2010, with the intention of replacing the remaining parts of PPS7 and is a material consideration, although the new Government has indicated its intention to review the situation. The relevant paragraph is NE8.9. It is therefore useful to refer to both texts.

  • BMV is covered by paras 7.3.17 and.18 in Proposed Changes to draft RSS for the South West (2008), based on the 2004 national policy, under Sustainable Land Management and Policy RE7: Local Authorities, other agencies and the private sector will promote an integrated approach to land management by developing area-specific packages which achieve multiple benefits, reinforce and enhance the specific natural and cultural features of local areas.

7.3.17 BMV land needs to be taken into account alongside other sustainability considerations when deciding between sites. The BMV agricultural soils need to be protected from development because these are the most flexible in terms of the range of crops or produce that can be grown, and therefore the most valuable for current and future agricultural production. Given changes to Common Agricultural Policies (CAP) and the fact that this is driving businesses to become more economically efficient, it is important that the best land is protected, for possible future agricultural needs. In some circumstances, BMV land may be subject to development pressures, particularly in areas identified for growth in Sections 3 & 4.

7.3.18 When identifying proposals for urban extensions Local Authorities should consider where BMV land around urban areas could be used to support development objectives and green infrastructure provision, whilst not compromising its potential for food production.
Information on ‘Magic’

  • Broad scale mapping of ALC is available on Magic ( ) - a useful start point to determine the potential presence of BMV land. However it not reliable for application to a detailed OS base. It is compiled from the original 1" to 1mile Provisional ALC sheets for England (and Wales). The maps were based on a desk exercise and were intended for strategic planning purposes only and Grade 3a (BMV) is not differentiated from 3b (not BMV). 

More detailed information

  • More accurate ALC information, based on actual field-surveys, is therefore required as evidence-base at Local Development Framework (LDF) level and CPRE branches can press their Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) to ensure this is made available, wherever there is a prospect that BMV land is involved.

  • The LPA should have this ALC data in hard copy form and sight of it could be requested. And it still desirable for LPAs to require up-to-date ALC surveys for any development proposals where BMV land is likely. Where there is current development pressure we would expect there to be post-1988 survey information: if not then the LPA could be lobbied to require/ acquire it.

  • LPAs may therefore need to be encouraged to obtain the relevant Natural England field-survey data and where necessary commission more detailed ALC surveys.

  • LPAs may also hold field-survey based ALC data supplied to them by applicants for planning consent as part of supporting environmental documentation. Such data will usually have been produced by specialist agricultural planning consultants. It is worth checking whether an LPA does have such information.

Information held by Natural England

  • Natural England (NE) can provide, on request, information held on its central Geographical Information System (GIS), which includes maps and reports based on field surveys of agricultural land at various scales from 1:10,000 to 1:50,000 (the scale reflects the intensity of survey - number of boreholes per ha). The more detailed the survey the more "accurate" the mapping, but all field-survey based maps should be more reliable than the 1" Provisional sheets used on Magic. Any requests to NE should specify the areas of interest and both pre-and post-1988 maps. There is no charge at present, unless any accompanying reports are required to be sent in hard copy. Electronic information can be sent by email (if not too large a file) or by post on CD. The contact is currently:

Geodiversity and Landscape Evidence Officer,

Geology, Landscape and Soils,

Northminster House, Northminster,

Peterborough, PE1 1UA
Land adjacent to the main urban areas

  • In Jan 2010 we obtained from NE for our branches all its survey-based Agricultural Land Classification (ALC) data to that date for areas surrounding the 23 Strategically Significant Cities and Towns (SSCTs ) in Proposed Changes to Draft RSS for the South West - ie covering the ‘areas of search’ for major urban extension.

  • The ALC information we have received from NE is in map form and provides a kind of visual index: it identifies the land which has been surveyed and whether it was a reconnaisance (usually mapped at 1:25,000) or detailed survey (usually mapped at 1:10,000).  The difference is the density of the borehole pattern and number of trial pits (needed to look at soil structure).  

  • Rural areas The same type of information can be requested from NE for more rural areas, with the information on Magic providing an indication as to whether BMV land is likely to be a consideration. If so, NE can be approached to see if it holds more detailed survey information. This may be relevant to the LDF process in relation to considering, for example, which smaller towns/settlements are most appropriate for smaller scale urban extension or for other potential development.

  • Greater detail As above, the SSCT information we have obtained is a summary in map form. The more detailed survey information behind it can also be requested and could be useful if challenging inappropriate development – it may be particularly useful at the more detailed allocation/site level.  

  • Monitoring Branches may wish to propose including monitoring any loss of BMV land as part of LDF monitoring requirements.


1 Most having been incorporated into the new PPS4 : Planning for sustainable economic growth (2009)

NB This seminar was held before the change of Government in May 2010. Please note that changes to the planning system, especially the regional tier, may have been made since these notes were compiled.

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