Those dreaming of building their own Grand Design and tempted by cheap green belt plots have been urged to pay heed to an unusual warning from two councils.
Sevenoaks district council in Kent and Dacorum Borough Council in Hertfordshire have issued strong warnings to potential buyers of green belt land advertised for sale on Rightmove and other property platforms, with images indicating homes could be built there.
The plots were advertised for between £15,000 and £75,000 with the ones in Kent showing computer generated images of homes.
This is in spite of Sevenoaks council putting up signs on the land warning that owners would be unlikely to be granted planning permission.
Meanwhile, even buyers hoping for just a slice of the good life in the countryside were warned special restrictions mean that they may not be able to put up fences, walls or gates, or use it for leisure purposes.
Land in West Kingsdown was on the market on Rightmove for £35,000, but Sevenoaks District council is warning off prospective buyers and saying it’s won’t grant permission to develop
A sign (pictured below, right) posted on the fence of the West Kingsdown plot in Kent warned: ‘Potential purchasers of green belt land for housing are being warned such sites are very unlikely to be granted permission.
‘To ensure these sites continue to be protected, the council has served Article 4 directions restricting the activities that can normally be carried out without planning permission.
This sign was posted on a fence of the West Kingsdown land advertised for sale
‘This includes putting up fences, gates or walls, stationing caravans and other temporary uses.
‘Nationally, all green belt sites are protected by policies, which aim to prevent development by keeping the land permanently open.
‘Because of this, they are extremely unlikely to be granted planning permission to be developed.’
The sign then quoted councillor Julia Thornton, the council’s cabinet member for planning who said: ‘We’re concerned that unsuspecting people will buy plots of land thinking they could be developed for housing.
‘These green belt sites are protected and any proposal to build on them is extremely unlikely to be granted planning permission.’
However, the plots of land based in sought-after Sevenoaks’ Edenbridge (Hever Road) and West Kingsdown (St Clere Hill Road) had marketing materials giving the impression they could be developed, used for light farming and recreational purposes.
Computer generated pictures included a luxury home, a small estate of houses, and people with smallholdings and a family with a car and caravan.
But the council has urged prospective buyers to be very careful about the land in a warning that holds for those considering buying similar plots in the green belt anywhere in the country.
Councillor Thornton told This is Money that unsuspecting purchasers hoping to build on land in the green belt divided into plots had their fingers burned before in the area.
She said: ‘We have had this elsewhere previously going back six to seven years and people buy with high expectations and then realise they can do nothing with it.’
To ensure that the land is protected the council have put an ‘Article 4 direction’ on both sites. It limits activities that can normally be carried out under permitted development without planning permission.
What is an Article 4 direction?
According to Gov.uk, an Article 4 direction is a direction that enables a Secretary of State or local planning authority to withdraw a specified permitted development rights across a defined area. It can:
– Cover an area of any geographic size
– Remove specified permitted development rights related to operational development or change of use
– Remove permitted development rights temporarily or permanently
It is often used to stop development rights to protect the wellbeing of an area but there needs to be strong justification for it.
Reasons include the preservation of a national park or area of outstanding beauty (AONB), especially when developments pose a “serious threat to areas or landscapes of exceptional beauty”.
That doesn’t mean land owners can’t try and apply for permission to develop the area or use it for other purposes.
Gov.uk says a planning application can still be made which “gives a local planning authority the opportunity to consider a proposal in more detail”. But the chances of such approval are slim.
Thornton says: ‘We put notices on both pieces of land as we had an incident a few years ago where people were buying plots and wanted to fence them off.
‘The steps we took was to raise awareness for people thinking of buying it for investment purposes and they also gave us the power to do something about it if people took matters into their own hands and put what they liked on them.
‘Some try to make a fortune out of those who are not particularly savvy and fall for the advertising speak.’
Exclusive Property Group, the company marketing the land in West Kingsdown, used this CGI image on Rightmove to illustrate how the land could be developed
On its Rightmove listing, the land in St Clere Road, West Kingsdown, Sevenoaks was described as ‘an outstanding strategic greenbelt land opportunity, comprising various sized plots of freehold land, situated in the highly desirable village of West Kingsdown, a rural location on the outskirts of Sevenoaks…’
The advert, uploaded and promoted by London based Exclusive Property Sales went on to highlight that this is ‘easy to access useful land, ideal for where you have no access to a garden allotment, perhaps to keep some animals or grow your own produce or just purchasing land for future generations to enjoy etc.’
Some try to make a fortune out of those who are not particularly savvy and that fall for the advertising speak.
Sevenoaks Cllr, Julia Thornton
The advert says that the land, which has been subdivided into nine plots and priced at £35,000 a piece, was previously used as grazing land for animals.
Exclusive Property Sales adds that it offers an ‘excellent opportunity for other potential uses, subject to change of use or planning permission’.
But while the advert contained those ‘subject to planning’ caveats it also included artists’ impressions of homes and housing estates built on the land.
Exclusive Property Group also promoted the West Kingdown land with this CGI image showing how the divided up land could be developed with homes developed on it
The land in Hever Road, in Edenbridge, has all been sold and was being marketed by Layton’s Premier Properties for £15,000, on behalf of Exclusive Property Sales.
It was described on listing site Onthemarket as ‘outside AONB’ (Area of Natural Beauty) and ‘close to houses meaning services could be easily obtained and also outside the area of natural beauty’.
It’s a plot of land. People can buy it do whatever they wish to do with it as long as it fits in with any planning rules. We’re not trying to suggest anything otherwise
Jonathan Lloyd, Exclusive Property Sales
This is not the only land in or near an AONB that Exclusive Property Sales has advertised.
At the time of writing it also advertised two plots of land near Little Gaddesden, Hertfordshire, for £75,000 and £35,000 respectively.
Exclusive Property Sales says in both adverts that the plots “may hold future potential for development” even though both are in AONB.
When This is Money approached planning authority DBC, a spokesperson warned: ‘Dacorum Borough Council is aware that the land in question is being marketed in plots.
What is a Tree Preservation Order?
According to Gov.uk, a Tree Preservation Order is applied by a local planning authority in England to protect specific trees or woodlands.
It prevents landowners from cutting down, topping, lobbing and uprooting the trees.
Landowners are also not allowed to conduct any ‘willful damage’ or ‘wilful destruction’ to the tree or trees concerned without written consent of the local planning authority.
‘The land is in an area of development constraint: it is in the borough’s rural area and covered by the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and there are other factors such as the heritage setting of the listed Church and the presence of preserved trees, covered by Tree Preservation Order.’
An Article 4 direction also applies to the land in Hertfordshire. The DBC spokesperson added: ‘The Council made a legal (‘Article 4’) direction in 2019 to withdraw the legal rights that any owners have on the land to carry out works or to use the land for particular purposes.
‘The direction prevents owners from erecting fences, forming new access ways and use the land for temporary uses such as camping.
‘Any such proposals now have to be made by making planning applications to the Council, so they can be assessed in detail and against the policies the Council has set to manage the extent of development in the area.’
Marketing material also showed how caravans could be stationed on the West Kingsdown property, but Sevenoaks District Council said it has taken measures to stop this
Marketing material for the West Kingsdown show how surrounding areas have been developed
Is it miss-selling?
When asked if the adverts gave potential purchasers false hope Jonathan Lloyd, auction manager at Exclusive Property Sales, said: ‘We’re certainly not trying to mis-sell anything.
‘It’s a plot of land. People can buy it do whatever they wish to do with it as long as it fits in with any planning rules. We’re not trying to suggest anything otherwise.’
Referring to the images for West Kingsdown he said: ‘These details show computer-generated images of how the future may look subject to any planning permission and consents required.
‘I am happy to tell people it’s got an Article 4 directive on it and that they should relay anything to the council. I don’t think that’s mis-selling anything in any way.’
I have writing that’s as large as the rest of the writing that says it’s illustrative and I think that’s reasonable
Jonathan Lloyd, Exclusive Property Sales
He added that he saw no need to take any of the images down. ‘I disagree and not willing to change that.
‘I will not take down a picture of a fence with a horse on there. I have writing that’s as large as the rest of the writing that says it’s illustrative and I think that’s reasonable.’
The marketing material fails to mention any current development restrictions in place for the West Kingsdown land, so prospective buyers would need to do some digging to uncover that information.
However, Mr Lloyd confirmed that there are currently two in place. He pointed out that there was a 20-year development restriction on the land that was put in place 14 years ago and had six years left.
He added: ‘The current sellers have put another development restriction on the land, which would run for another 75 years, so trying to deter anyone from developing the land as well. So, the sellers would rather sell it to use it for keeping animals on or leisure and recreational use.’
Exclusive Property Sales says the land has been used for agricultural purposes in the past but council restrictions don’t allow for people to put fencing up or any other temporary
Lloyd said the land in Kent had potential as an investment for future generations. ‘I would say not everyone can afford to buy 15-20 acres at a time and if you had £30,000 at the moment, not that I’m giving investment advice… a lot of them would come to us and think “I could buy this piece of land and find some way of making use of it or enjoying it and pass on to children where they could get an opportunity to develop in the future.”
The direction prevents owners from erecting fences, forming new access ways and use the land for temporary uses such as camping.
Spokesperson for Dacorum Borough Council
‘As salesmen, we will point out the good things and equally we’re not here to mislead and we’ll take down anything that’s considered misleading, but I’ve not been approached by the council or Trading Standards to say what we’re doing here is misleading.’
When This is Money approached Sevenoaks District Council, it said: ‘The Article 4 directions were served on the landowner and publicised on our website, in the press, in a public notice and over social media.
‘This was well beyond the legal requirements for publicity. I can confirm we have passed on details of the sites to Kent County Council Trading Standards.’
The DBC said it had also referred the matter with the Herts County Council Trading Standards.
The spokesperson said: ‘There has also been liaison with Herts County Council Trading Standards over the content of marketing brochure material, though this is not the responsibility of Dacorum Borough Council.’
This is Money also approached Rightmove and Onthemarket about their policy on this type of marketing.
A spokesperson for Rightmove said: ‘All agents advertising on Rightmove have to comply with strict criteria, which includes full compliance with all relevant industry regulations and codes.
‘If anyone has a query about the accuracy of a listing we have a dedicated team who will speak to the agent and ask them to provide evidence of the information within the listing.
‘If an agent is unable to provide suitable evidence that a listing is accurate, they will be asked to remove or amend the listing.’
An Onthemarket spokesperson responded: ‘We have contacted the agent to ensure they are investigating the claim. The integrity and accuracy of property data is of paramount importance to us to ensure we provide the best possible user search experience.’
At the time of writing, some of the development CGI images for the West Kingsdown land had been taken down from the property listing websites, but the images containing caravans and the land being used for livestock for the West Kingsdown property remains.
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