How much experience do I/we need to have to take on an ELC smallholding?
Some experience of working or volunteering on a farm scale agriculture project is essential. This is because understanding the issues involved with producing and selling to raise income requires direct experience. If you have experience of managing an agricultural project this will make your proposal and business plan even stronger. If you don't have this experience, but have been involved in running/managing a non agricultural business, this will also support your application.
Does ELC have land across the whole of England?
At the moment our plots are all in the South of England and Wales. This is because we are a relatively young organisation and our resources are limited, necessitating a geographical focus on our activities. However, in the future we aspire to work further north and develop opportunities in the Midlands and North of England too. The best way to keep up to date with our land acquisitions is by subscribing to our newsletter.
Do other organisations do what ELC does?
There are a number of other organisations actively campaigning and developing opportunities and support for new entrants to agroecological farming across the UK. Our model of land purchase and lease is currently unique in England but there are other ways to access land-based livelihoods and there is support available through training, mentoring, participation in CSA schemes and others. There are organisations working across all of these areas and other support to get into land-based living in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. A great place to start finding out more is the Landworkers' Alliance New Entrant Support page.
How soon can we move onto the land?
This depends on the stage of development of the site you’ve applied for. Once we have secured temporary planning permission for a site, people can start work on their holding as soon as they have signed their lease. See the information sheets for our available sites in Somerset and Cornwall. for an indication of when this might be. We understand that moving full time to a new place can take time, but we would like that to happen within twelve months of signing the lease.
What is a “viable, ecological, small-scale farm business”?
Viable means that you must be able to show you are making enough profit after all farm expenses are deducted to cover your living expenses and provide for the future investment needs for the business - ideally the budget would include a 'wage' that covers your living expenses. Ecological relates to the environmental principles used in the growing processes and include a ban on using agri-chemicals and poisons and high standards of animal welfare – see the Management Plan for a complete guide to what we require. Small-scale relates to the size of the smallholding and the amount of land being farmed. They are not conventional, mechanised farms; they are small and will be labour intensive. You can see a definition of viable agriculture on page 17 of the Example Management Plan.
What is “farm-scale agriculture”?
There is no legal definition, but we mean practicing commercially productive agriculture - or agroforestry etc - in a way that needs this amount of land area. For such small farm holdings as these we mean using the clear majority of the land area for production annually or on a short rotations.
Why must I establish a financially viable smallholding, why is being self-sufficient not enough?
In order to meet the local authority assessment requirements to achieve permanent planning permission, the farm business needs to show that it makes enough profit to cover the living expenses of the people living on it and the future investment needs for the farm business. Whilst there is an increasing understanding of low impact living and people needing smaller incomes to cover their living expenses it is unlikely that a farm that only covers the most basic living expenses of the tenants would be considered viable.
What is functional need and why must I demonstrate it?
The permission for a new home in the countryside is agriculturally tied and so you must demonstrate that there is a need for you to be living on site in order to successfully manage the ecological farm business. Without a functional need it could be considered that there is no reason for the producer to be able to live on site and planning permission could be removed.
Can I set up an educational or therapeutic project on the land?
We are not offering an opportunity for people to buy land to set up educational or therapeutic projects. Training and education about regenerative agriculture, low impact living and cooperative ways of working are integral to the mission of the ELC and we fully support our smallholders to develop educational and therapeutic offerings. However, this cannot be the main activity of the business. The planning permission is agriculturally tied, meaning that it has been granted on the condition that commercial agriculture in the form of a farm business with a functional need for the grower to live on site is taking place. This will be assessed each year as part of the ELC monitoring process and will also form the basis of independent agricultural assessments that are undertaken when we make the application for permanent planning permission in 5 years’ time. The leases we are offering make this clear. First and foremost this is an opportunity for farmers, not educators and therapists.
How are plots priced?
We calculate the price of each smallholding by working out how much we have spent to buy the land and develop it, including a proportion of the costs of setting up and developing the ELC and the cost of raising the finance to do all of this work. The other factor is the size of each plot – we calculate a fixed overhead cost which is the same for each plot, and then a price per acre which varies according to the size of the plot.
For example, on a site with three plots of 3.5, 6 and 10 acres respectively, each plot would share a third of the ELC’s site development costs (equal to approximately £80,000* per plot) plus £6,000 per acre. Therefore if the total cost of developing the site is £240,000 then the 3.5 acre plot would cost £101,000, the 6 acre plot would cost £116,000 and the 10 acre plot would cost £140,000.
* Figure based on costs of previous ELC developments and is subject to change
How does the rent to buy option work? What other costs are involved?
Our rent to buy option enables ELC tenants to purchase their lease with an initial down payment and then pay the outstanding amount over a period of years via monthly rental payments. The information in the table below provides example costs involved and payment options available for the purchase of a 6 acre plot. These costs are described in more detail on page 10 of our business plan.
||Rent to Buy
|6 acre plot
||Initial Down Payment (20%)
EXAMPLE ONLY – The actual rent will be calculated based on the final purchase price of the lease for each plot.
||£430* for first 5 years
£650 for 20 years
£0 after 25 years
|Annual Costs – monitoring fee and insurance
||Starting at £450 per year – with an annual increase linked to the CPI inflation rate
||Starting at £450 per year – with an annual increase linked to the CPI inflation rate
|Smallholder support fee
||£650 annually reducing to £0 over 10 years
||£650 annually reducing to £0 over 10 years
* Initial reduced interest only payment in first 5 years of lease, i.e. before start of capital repayments.
What is the rental option?
Our rental option is designed to make an ELC plot affordable even for those who do not have enough savings or access to capital (e.g. a house to sell) in order to afford a deposit on a lease to access one of our plots. Substantial investment in business set up costs will still be required. If you’re interested in finding out more about this option, the best thing to do is to talk to us about your situation and needs so we can understand if this is an option we can offer you.
Why do we only have a five year temporary permission?
Because ELC needs to prove to the local community that this can work and that this development can be a positive contribution to the local economy. The planning policy states that while the farm business is still establishing itself a temporary permission should be granted. The policy expects that the farmer, if successful, would apply for permanent permission before the end of the temporary period, at which point they should have the track record to demonstrate that their farm business is viable.
What will happen at the end of the five year temporary permission?
Before the five years has elapsed and if the Management Plan has been adhered to, the ELC will apply for a permanent permission. ELC will work with tenants to help ensure that the Management Plan is adhered to and that their plans are clear and credible.
Will leases be inheritable?
Yes. The smallholder can leave their property to their children, or whoever they want, for the 150 year length of the lease. But the future leaseholder must still adhere to the terms of the lease including the management plan requiring the smallholding to be farmed ecologically. Anyone in breach of these terms can be asked to relinquish the lease back to the ELC.
Can we/they sell the lease?
Yes. However, the amount the lease can be sold for is not set by the market, rather it is set out in the lease. Whoever inherits the smallholding or buys it from the smallholder will have to adhere to the same conditions - they will have to manage the land ecologically and will have to derive their livelihood from the holding, and will have to provide one full time person’s work from it. The lease also gives the ELC the first right to buy the smallholding at the re-sale price. We recommend that all prospective tenants read the Lease, the Management Plan and the Valuation Policy in full.
How are a tenant’s improvements to the site recognised if they decide to sell?
Agreed improvements will be incorporated into the resale value of the smallholding each year. High value improvements, for example a dwelling, large farm buildings or major infrastructure, need to be agreed with the ELC before construction in order to ensure their inclusion in the resale value calculations. Lower value improvements can be added to the business valuation annually. In order to ensure that the holdings remain affordable there will be a cap - an upper limit - on the total value of improvements and the resale value of the smallholding, including the dwelling. Please read the draft Valuation Policy to understand how improvements are agreed and the resale value calculated each year. If there is anything you don’t understand in this policy please seek guidance before proceeding either from the ELC or your solicitor.
How many people can live in one smallholding?
An individual, a couple, or a family unit can apply for a smallholding. Of course it is expected that their dependents (for example children and/or elderly parents) will live there too. If you are part of a group of friends or a pair of couples then our advice would be for you to apply for a smallholding separately and make it clear on your application that you would like to be considered in conjunction with the other applicants.
What is the relationship between an individual smallholding and the ELC?
The individual smallholdings are owned on a 150-year leasehold by the smallholder and the smallholder runs their own business independently. The lease is a Farm Business Tenancy. The ELC retains the freehold in order to ensure that the land continues to be used ecologically and for a land-based livelihood and, should the site be sold, it is sold on affordably. As set out in the leasehold agreement, ELC would monitor the site on an annual basis and will seek to rectify any issues arising from this process. The ELC may be able to help with applying for grants and other support and assistance needed for the farm businesses to succeed.
Do we have to adhere to building regulations for the temporary dwelling?
Not in the temporary phase of permission. We have been advised that caravans and timber cabins that are less that 20m long and 6.8m wide fall within the definition of caravan and are therefore exempt of building regulations. Permanent dwelling structures would likely have to adhere to the regulations. Please speak to us or read the Caravan Act 1968 (amended 2006) for a fuller understanding of the regulations.
Can we have pets?
Yes. Indeed, we expect many of our smallholders to keep animals and livestock which are integral to their businesses, and we recognise some people do not draw a clear distinction between “pets” and farm animals. However, like people, some animals do not get along with one another. We suggest that the question of “pets”, like many other questions, is something which neighbours will need to discuss, negotiate and potentially compromise on.
Is it some kind of commune?
No. Each smallholder has their own independent smallholding and their own dwelling. We are, however, providing shared facilities including site access and track, a barn with solar array, and a water supply.
What happens if I don’t always agree with my neighbours?
It is possible that there will be disagreements at some point in the life of the smallholding cluster and, when discussed in the right way, this can be beneficial to the development of close, mutually supportive relationships. We also recognise that dealing with these issues can be difficult. We will provide training for new smallholders on effective group working and conflict resolution. The ELC will do as much as we can to provide an overall framework with defined boundaries and agreements to reduce the risk of the misunderstandings that can lead to conflict.