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AGR1  The Protection Of Agriculture  Strategic Policy

In considering proposals for development on agricultural land the local planning authority will seek to prevent:
(I) the loss of Wirral's best and most versatile agricultural land;
(ii) the severance or fragmentation of a farm holding;
(iii) unacceptable nuisance or disturbance to existing agricultural enterprise.

Where development on the best and most versatile agricultural land is unavoidable such development should be directed to the lowest possible grade.

Reasoned justification :

12.1 Despite the high proportion of urban and other non-agricultural land-use in Wirral, approximately one third of the Borough's land area is still used for agricultural purposes. Recent figures from the Agricultural Census indicate that up to 1,800 hectares of land are still used for arable production and that there are over 7,000 head of livestock and 64,000 poultry present throughout the Borough. Agriculture is, therefore, still of considerable significance in terms of its impact on the local economy.

12.2 Policy AGR1 reflects the emphasis that national planning policy places upon sustaining the rural economy and protecting the countryside. All Wirral's rural areas fall within the Green Belt. Opportunities for economic diversification are, therefore, more restricted than in many other areas of open countryside. Under these circumstances it is of even greater importance to ensure that the physical conditions necessary to sustain a viable agricultural economy are given appropriate weight when considering the future pattern of development.

12.3 In Wirral, over half the land currently used for agricultural purposes is classified within Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food (MAFF) Agricultural Land Classification Grade 1, Grade 2 and Sub-Grade 3a. National planning policy guidance indicates that land of this quality is a resource of national importance which should normally be protected from development. Once lost to development it is rarely practicable to return such land to best quality agricultural production. Policy AGR1, therefore, places a priority on resisting the permanent loss of such land to non-agricultural uses.

12.4 Policy AGR1 also seeks to protect the structure of land holdings from the effect of severance or fragmentation arising from non-agricultural development. Even land of poorer quality may have special significance to individual farms, not least in terms of maintaining an established pattern of capital investment, supporting the more intensive use of other areas of land or contributing directly to the overall viability of the wider land holding. Proposals which would leave parcels of land incapable of beneficial agricultural use or which would leave the remainder of the farm incapable of giving a worthwhile return will, therefore, normally be resisted.

12.5 The direct loss of land is, however, not the only factor which may affect the continued efficiency and upkeep of farm holdings. Other forms of disturbance arising from adjacent development can have a number of operational implications for future cropping patterns or livestock husbandry. The Secretary of State's Strategic Guidance for Merseyside specifically states that development allowed near farms needs to be such as to avoid incompatible adjacent land use. Policy AGR1, therefore, also provides for the restriction of development likely to cause unacceptable disturbance to existing agricultural enterprise.

12.6 The priority attached to the protection of agricultural enterprise expressed within Policy AGR1 not only reflects the continuing importance of agriculture to the local economy but also reflects the special contribution that agriculture makes to maintaining the character and landscape of Wirral's rural areas.