UNSCRUPULOUS landowners are attempting to evict farm tenants to regain possession of land let under Agricultural Holdings Act tenancies for tree planting purposes.
TFA Cymru reports that some landowners, in an effort to cash in on Welsh Government subsidies are trying to use a procedural trick to force tenants off productive farmland.
And it looks like the Welsh Government proposes to do nothing to stop them.
The Agricultural Holdings Act 1986 allows a landlord to use what is called a Case B notice to quit on a tenant if the landlord has gained planning permission for non-agricultural use of the land.
However, tree planting does not require planning permission and therefore a Case B notice to quit cannot be validly served by a landlord who intends to plant trees on the land which is subject to the notice.
TFA Rural Surveyor, Caroline Squire, said “We are seeing a lot of instances where landlords are attempting to resume land for tree planting by using Case B notices. Tenants are not able to contest these notices, so they are quite frightening when they arrive.
“However, tenants can ask for the notice to quit to be referred to arbitration to determine that it is an ineligible notice.
“It is critically important that the notice demanding arbitration is served by the tenant within one month of the date of the landlord’s notice to quit. Failure to respond within the deadline will render the landlords notice valid.
“The only circumstance in which a Case B notice to quit for tree planting might be valid is if the tree planting was ancillary to a development which had planning permission – for example, if there was planning permission for a timber processing facility and the land around it was required to grow timber to be used within that facility.
“Similarly, a landscaping requirement for a housing development might also fall within scope. However, straight tree planting without a co
nnected change of use confirmed by a planning consent will always be out of scope for case B,” said Caroline.
We asked the Welsh Government what steps it was taking NOW to protect tenant farmers’ rights and prevent the abuse of the notice system by rogue landlords.
We also ask what further steps, if any, it proposes to ensure tenants have increased security, tenant farms remain viable, and productive farmland is not destroyed in the pursuit of a subsidy.
And the answer to those questions was “not much”.
A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “We encourage tenants in receipt of Case B notices to seek immediate advice from a relevant professional, such as the Tenant Farmers Association, and act within the statutory deadlines.”
They continued to offer even less than “not much”: “We need to plant 86 million trees by the end of this decade if we are to meet NetZero carbon emissions by 2050.
“Properly managed, this also offers a considerable opportunity to the rural economy to create green jobs and skills in harvesting timber for high-value goods.
“We want to work with Welsh farmers and landowners to achieve this.”
In short, the Welsh Government will do nothing to address any current problems and prefers planting trees to food production.
Local MS Sam Kurtz, the Shadow Minister for Rural Affairs, said: “This is an alarming situation and one that deserves serious action from the Welsh Government.
“We already know that Welsh farmers are facing unprecedented pressure from foreign investors to sell off their land for tree planting. If that wasn’t enough, it now appears their attention has shifted to landlords – and so, putting further stress and strain on our tenant farmers.
“The Welsh Government must take serious and immediate action, and not wait for the introduction of the new farming support schemes. It is they who have created the lucrative woodland creation project. Except, it’s not Wales’s farming community who are benefitting from these projects, neither are the people of Wales.
“If we see the landscape of Welsh farms cut up, sold off, and diminished in favour of mass afforestation, then so too we will see the demise of Wales’s rural communities and economies.”