Its funny how such a small piece of land attracts so much attention. In ‘old money’ it’s a fraction under 1 acre, enough to grow a crop of root vegetables or for use as a grazing meadow in an agricultural small-holding but not for much else, you’d think. There are a small number of pieces of green fields of this particular size in and around my community for sale on the open market, advertised by local agents, not agricultural land agents but estate agents. Surely something is afoot.
In my local planning authority [LPA] world, 0.4 hectares is regarded as a small site with an equivalence of 10 dwellings and is a critical land area for developers. It’s the threshold at which things start not to apply. In rural parishes in this borough, below this threshold, a developer is not obliged currently to contribute affordable homes at a rate of 30% (see Planning Contributions: Supplementary Planning Document: Guildford Development Framework, March 2011 para 3.5, p.16 and Topic Paper: Housing, Guildford Draft Local Plan, July 2014 para 4.29 p.11 ). Neither is the developer obliged to provide the minimum area of 2 hectares of Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspace [SANG] to draw new residents away from the local Site of Special Scientific Interest [SSSI] in their leisure walks; developments of less that 10 dwellings that arise within 5km of the Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area [TBHSPA] boundary need to be within a specified distance (5 km) of SANG, provided that a sufficient quantity and quality of SANG land to cater for the consequent increase in population is identified and available in the borough (or agreed in an adjoining district) and functional in advance of completion (see Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area, Avoidance Strategy 2009-20014 para 4.14, page 8).
When a piece of local meadow of approximately 1 hectare was sold to a developer, it was no surprise to find the land divided into two plots of 0.6 ha and 0.4 ha. At an acceptable density of 30 dwellings per hectare in a rural area (acceptable to the LPA that is) , it remains possible to squeeze up to 10 dwellings plus infrastructure into a 0.4 ha plot. For an investment of £55,000 in 0.4.ha of green fields in my community (quoted price by local estate agency, mid-October 2014), a land purchaser might convert it potentially into a housing development with a market value of at least £4 million, assuming they can afford the risk of finding out the plot is in the Green Belt and outside the settlement boundary.
Even the BBC has commented on the impact of Chinese investors speculating on land in the Green Belt, using it as a ‘hedge’ against the ups and downs of their own economy. This can be seen locally in my area where some estate agents are positively promoting themselves to land owners as being the key brokers in this speculative bubble. So, if you see a ‘for sale’ or ‘sold’ sign going up over a green field near you, your new ‘neighbour’ might turn out to be living somewhere in China.