16 August 2023

A blend of features in vineyard planning – Victoria Du Croz and Idina Glyn write for EG

Head of Planning, Victoria Du Croz, and Private Client Senior Associate, Idina Glyn, have co-written a piece for Estates Gazette on the important planning implications of the supply network involved in the UK’s wine production.

Many vineyards and wineries operate through a network of supply contracts. Grapes may be grown at one vineyard and processed on site. More commonly, grapes will be grown at a variety of locations and processed by a single winery, or a specific vineyard might contract with a winery to process their grapes. Many vineyards in the South East, for example, will grow their grapes, send them to be processed elsewhere, then bring the bottled wine back on site for tours, tastings, refreshments and sales. Furthermore, many vineyards and wineries are continuing to diversify, offering a range of experiences, including tours, tastings, overnight stays and the hosting of weddings and corporate events.

The practical realities of commercial operations of vineyards and wineries’ commercial operations means industry experience is needed to advise on the planning position and experience is critical. A vineyard with a commercial winery, tastings and tours, etc can look like a different business in each month of the year – the shape of the business will differ from season to season, much more than a traditional arable farm may do.

It is essential to understand what is actually happening on the ground when the year is viewed in the round and to map this on to the current planning framework. Many vineyards are located in designated areas of outstanding natural beauty, which have particular planning restrictions for their preservation. Most of these vineyards will be agricultural in nature, but can stray into commercial use classes if the commercial activity is not directly ancillary to the viticulture, leaving them open to enforcement action if they do not have the correct consents in place.

Full-bodied case

In a recent appeal in respect of the Cuxton Winery, in Kent, an inspector had to grapple with whether there was a material change in use at the vineyard if the grapes were taken off-site for wine production and then returned for storage and sale. Previously, Medway Council had granted a certificate of lawfulness for agricultural use that expressly permitted wine to be produced, stored and sold on site. The certificate made no express mention of the lawfulness of providing tours, tastings and refreshments, nor for selling wine produced elsewhere. The appellant sought revised wording in a certificate of lawfulness to cover these two points.

As noted by the inspector, in such applications the onus is on the applicant to provide sufficient evidence and accordingly the decision is fact-specific. However, it does raise an interesting point about what is “incidental” to the growing of grapes to produce wine, which is accepted as an agricultural activity. The inspector considered that wine production is a lengthy process to make a different product and is therefore akin to an industrial process (in contrast to simply crushing grapes). Previously, case law has held that the on-site production of wine is incidental to the primary use of that site for the growing of grapes.

The inspector considered that, based on the information before him, the appellant had failed to demonstrate that it would be ordinarily incidental and reasonably necessary to process up to 20,000 bottles of wine annually off-site as part of the primary agricultural use of the site. The inspector accepted that some off-site production could be regarded as incidental but, in this case, it appeared all the wine would be produced off site. While not entirely clear from the decision, it seems to be the return of the entirely different product from the off-site industrial process, ie the wine, for the subsequent storage and sale which meant there was a material change in use from the main agricultural use of the site.

The inspector also rejected the proposed wording in the certificate for the tours, tastings and refreshments, which did not seek to quantify the frequency and extent of such activities. The inspector considered that if the wine were to be produced on site, the scope and quantity of tours would potentially broaden, which may mean the tours, etc would cease to be incidental. Again, the inspector did not consider that the appellant had discharged the necessary burden of proof. Accordingly, the appeal was refused.

Endnote

The decision serves to highlight the importance of applicants discharging the burden of proof for certificates of lawfulness by providing sufficient evidence. It also demonstrates the potential pitfalls in seeking to diversify agricultural land against the backdrop of our historic and restrictive planning use class system.

The decision is one of many recent planning decisions affecting this industry. With WineGB reporting there are more than 940 vineyards and over 200 wineries in Britain and, as the industry is still expanding, there are likely to be more.

The matter is not helped by broader planning policy. Although the National Planning Policy Framework supports a prosperous rural economy, each local planning authority has its own local plan and it is rare for these to address diversification of vineyards and wineries adequately. Advice should be sought at the earliest opportunity on the scale and scope of any diversification plan including whether and what planning applications need to be made.

The diversification of vineyards is becoming increasingly important from a commercial standpoint and for the future-proofing of such businesses. Although seemingly welcomed in the UK, it requires careful thought and consideration from a planning perspective.

This article was originally published by EG on 15 August 2023 and can be read here in full (behind their paywall).

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