No-win, no-fee lawyers ruining our countryside: They bankroll farmers seeking permission to build on their fields
- Speculators are trying to exploit a loophole to build houses on open fields
- Gladman Developments offers farmers chance to increase value of land
- ‘Predatory’ agent is pursuing 102 applications for housing developments
- Government wants to build 200,000 homes each year to meet demand
- Country Life said villages have been ‘stripped of their natural defences’
In a damning indictment of the Government’s relaxed planning laws, one successful land agent is now so confident it can bulldoze past local objections that it does not charge farmers an upfront fee for its services.
A Daily Mail investigation has revealed that Gladman Developments, a ‘strategic land promoter’, offers them the chance to increase the value of their land by a multiple of 50 or 60 by transforming agricultural land into development sites.
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Gladman Developments is seeking planning permission for this 15-acre farm near the Peak District
Gladman – one of the most successful of these ‘predatory developers’ – is pursuing 102 planning applications for huge housing developments all over England, most of them on greenfield land on the edge of rural towns and villages.
The revelation comes days after two of the most respected rural institutions – the National Trust and Country Life magazine – issued warnings that some of Britain’s most picturesque countryside is being desecrated as a result of the Government’s reforms.
They said rural communities are alarmed at the ease with which businesses are able to win planning permission for housing in the face of local opposition.
Country Life said in an article last week that villages have been ‘stripped of their natural defences’ by the Government’s reforms, which have opened the floodgates to greenfield planning applications.
Its editor-at-large, Clive Aslet, wrote that while farmland was once protected, the balance had changed with the introduction of the new guidelines.
Councils must now show they have enough land to meet housing targets for the next five years – or lose key powers to ward off planning applications.
Sir Simon Jenkins, the outgoing chairman of the National Trust, said rolling farmland is being replaced by warehouses and bleak housing estates
‘Those who can’t are naked in the face of predatory developers’, Mr Aslet wrote. ‘Communities that don’t have local plans in place are similarly meat for the wolves.’
The Government’s policies were also denounced by Sir Simon Jenkins, the outgoing chairman of the National Trust, in an article for the Daily Mail.
He wrote: ‘Rolling farmland is replaced by warehouses, bleak housing estates, wind turbines and advertising hoardings in fields.’
The Government is desperate to build more than 200,000 homes each year to meet booming demand.
Under its National Planning Policy Framework, pushed into law two years ago, councils which have not earmarked suitable land to meet housing demand over the next five years must adopt a ‘presumption’ in favour of planning permission.
Gladman Developments, which has a turnover of £200million a year, targets councils that cannot demonstrate a five-year housing supply.
It offers to pay all the costs of obtaining planning permission – including the fees for lawyers and experts in the event of any appeal – which can exceed £300,000.
If the attempt to win permission is unsuccessful, the farmer does not have to pay anything. The firm recently took out adverts in the farming press calling for sites of up to 50 acres on the edge of a towns or villages. Its adverts boast: ‘We aim to never lose and have won 90 per cent of our housing planning applications.
‘You pay nothing, win or lose. We only get our percentage after you have sold your land to the highest bidding housebuilder.’
The firm has an astonishing success rate, having secured planning permission for rural sites in 41 out of its last 43 cases, despite substantial local opposition.
Its latest projects include a site for 112 homes in the idyllic Slad Valley in Gloucestershire, immortalised in Laurie Lee’s memoir Cider with Rosie; an estate of 107 homes within view of the summit of the Peak District’s Kinder Scout; and a 970-house project in Lincolnshire which would expand the town of Louth by 12 per cent.
Among its other projects are plans for 1,500 homes near Stratford-upon-Avon, and 70 homes in Witney, Oxfordshire, in David Cameron’s constituency.
David Gladman, director of Gladman Developments, insisted his company focused on ‘sensible, sustainable locations’.
He said: ‘We are professional at what we do, and proud to help deliver homes and associated prosperity to these towns and villages.
‘Everyone needs reminding that we all live in a home which was built on what was once a green field.’
Planning Minister Brandon Lewis said: ‘There remains strong protection of the countryside and Green Belt. The best way for councils to send speculative vultures packing is to have an up to date local plan.’
£200,000 IDYLL DEVELOPERS WANT TO TURN INTO £25M HOUSING ESTATE
Farmer Robert Bennett owns a share of the proposed development at Whaley Bridge which has been targeted by planning firm Gladman
Nestled in a valley on the edge of the Peak District, an easy drive from Manchester and Sheffield, Whaley Bridge is an idyllic but bustling rural town.
But its convenient location coupled with glorious views has drawn attention from planning consultants Gladman Developments, which has submitted plans for 107 houses.
As agricultural land, the 15-acre plot is worth less than £200,000. But with planning permission, the owners could sell it for about £13million – 65 times as much – with the developer taking a cut. And the developer could expect to sell the homes for about £235,000 each – a total of £25million.
Local people are furious about the proposal, which will be visible 11 miles away from the Peaks’ highest point, Kinder Scout.
Andy Brown, 47, whose home of 23 years overlooks the fields, said: ‘It is vandalism. It is completely eradicating the countryside, its history and its wildlife.’
Mr Brown is a founder member of Whaley Bridge Matters, a group of more than 400 residents campaigning against the plan.
The family of farmers who own the fields were offered a ‘no-win, no-fee’ deal by Gladman. Farmer Robert Bennett, 61, claims the land was ‘no good’ for farming.
He said: ‘Gladman approached us. They are always rooting about trying to find bits of land. We said if you can get the planning permission, then do it. It is a no-win, no-fee deal. They take a big cut if it goes through. They seem confident about getting it.
‘People keep saying we need houses, but then they would rather look out on a field.’
His cousin James Slack, known as Peter, farms 250 acres in the area, including the land earmarked for development. He said: ‘There’s been quite a bit of objection. I can see why.’