Understanding Agricultural Land Classification and its role in development planning

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Shannon Lynn
May 16, 2023
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Agricultural Land Classification (ALC) is another part of the planning system that developers need to understand in order to get a complete picture of the restrictions and complications that may be associated with a parcel of land. 

In this blog, we take a look at what ALC is and how developers can understand the classification to better unlock opportunities. 


What is agricultural land classification? 

The agricultural land use classification in the UK is a system used to rank the quality of agricultural land. 

The aim is to make sure the most valuable agricultural land gets protected and therefore remains available for agricultural uses; and that the land and soil are being used in sustainable ways. 

When assessing a site, developers need to consider the classification of any agricultural land that is included or affected by their development. The grades run from 1-5, with Grade 1 being the highest. Land with a higher grade will be more protected and it will be harder to convince an LPA that your development will be a better use of land. 

The planning system protects ‘Best and Most Versatile’ (BMV) agricultural land, which is classified as anything from 1 to 3a. BMV is assigned to land that has a high and consistent yield, is versatile, and requires limited input.


What is grade 3 on the agricultural land classification?

Grade 3 on the ALC can cause some confusion, as it is split out further than any of the other grades, and includes: 

  • Grade 3: good to moderate
  • Subgrade 3a – good quality 
  • Subgrade 3b – moderate quality


Now, what does that actually mean in practical terms? 

Within Grade 3, a classification of either Subgrade 3a or Subgrade 3b could be the difference between your application getting approved or not. BMV falls under 3a, but not 3b, which means that any ‘Grade 3’ land must be assessed as either 3a or 3b before it can be established if the BMV classification should be applied, and whether the development will be allowed. 

In LandInsight, we have an Agricultural Land Classification map showing you which areas are likely to be BMV land. And even better – where a detailed assessment has been previously carried out – we make the distinction between Grades 3 and 3a so you can tell quickly if a site is worth pursuing. 

More on how LandInsight can help later though. 


How can developers use agricultural land? 

Agricultural land can hold opportunities for developers – either for conversions, offsetting nutrient neutrality or biodiversity, or as a plot to build new developments.

But you have to be mindful that you’re using the right classification of agricultural land for your development or it may be more difficult to get planning permission on your site. 

Below, we break down some of the ways that agricultural land can be used by developers.

Agricultural conversions

Under permitted development rights, both Class Q and Class R enable conversions on agricultural land. They both unlock slightly different opportunities and have different degrees of complexity.  

  • Class Q – allows agricultural buildings to be converted to residential properties (and is more familiar to most developers)
  • Class R – allows agricultural buildings to be converted for a number of commercial uses

To learn more about conversion opportunities, you can watch our webinar on-demand or read more in our blog post here. 


New developments

Or if you’re not in the market for agricultural building conversions, you could find a suitable parcel of farming land, convince the owner to sell, and build a development from scratch. 

You’ll have to make sure that the land you’re going after isn’t BMV classified to increase your chances of getting your planning application improved though. 

It can also help your proposal if you’re able to demonstrate the sustainability of your project – either in terms of materials used or any offsetting you might carry out. 



New nutrient neutrality rules have resulted in many developers looking for new and creative ways to mitigate against their builds. 

Taking farmland out of production is one way of offsetting any nutrient pollution a development may cause. 

It can be a challenging approach as there are a few stipulations that you have to consider, such as whether the land owner has an intensive agriculture license and if you have the capability to convert the land to woodland. 

Our Guide to nutrient neutrality shares more mitigation methods and tips for offsetting nutrient neutrality. 

You may also find that your developments in other locations, or those of other nearby developers, are in need of a biodiversity net gain offset site. Providing biodiversity enhancements on agricultural land could work alongside other agricultural uses and could be a way of pulling a stable 25-year income from a site that is not suitable for housing – for example one that may be located within the Green Belt.  

Agricultural Land Classification data now in LandInsight

You can now easily view the ALC of a prospective site in LandInsight from the Agricultural Land Classification map in our planning policy layer. We pull this data from Natural England and Natural Resources Wales. 

You’re able to filter by Land Grades 1-5, so you only have the ALC you want visible on the map. Turn this on alongside our land availability assessment, nutrient neutrality, and significant constraints datasets to further check the viability of a site.

Plus add in our ownership boundaries, so that if there’s a plot of land you like the look of, you can simply click through and see who it belongs to. 

Want to find out how the LandTech ecosystem can help across the whole spectrum of your development journey, read our Four steps to find and fund sites fast.

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