This website is no longer being updated. Please go to GOV.SCOT

Circular No. 18/1987 Development Involving Agricultural Land

DescriptionCircular No. 18/1987 Development Involving Agricultural Land
Official Print Publication Date
Website Publication DateOctober 30, 1987

Circular No. 18/1987

Previous Circular Cancelled: 77/1975
Amended: 24/1981

The Chief Executive
Regional, Islands and District Councils

Date: 30 October 1987

Dear Sir


1. SDD Circular 77/1975 gave guidance on Development of Agricultural Land.I t defined the general policy aim as being to conserve agricultural land in a situation of considerable shortfalls in basic commodities. That policy has been implemented through development plans and development control under the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1972.

2. The Government have reviewed the policy and the manner in which it operates in the light of current conditions. Circular 77/1975 was set in the context of the White Paper Food from our own resources (Cmnd 6020) and reflected what was then seen as the need to maintain and expand UK food production. That policy was also behind the terms of Circular 24/1981, which laid down the arrangements for consultation with the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland on development proposals involving agricultural land and the requirement for planning authorities to notify the Secretary of State in certain circumstances if they were minded to grant planning permission. At present by contrast, there are substantial surpluses of the main agricultural products in western countries. As the need to maximise agricultural output declines, so the need to encourage diversification of the rural economy into other kinds of activity, both on and off the farm increases. Rural areas already have a great variety of other businesses, from light industry to tourism, from craft workshops to the provision of recreational activities. The fact that it is now less important to retain as much agricultural land in production as possible means that there is more scope for introducing other types of employment and development provided that it is on a scale appropriate to rural areas. Nowadays the range of industries that can be successfully located in rural areas is expanding rapidly. There are attractions to the firms themselves in a clean and healthy environment. Not only do new small firms create new employment but they can also help to bring new life and activity to rural communities. In short, the need now is to encourage the diversification of the rural economy so as to open up opportunities for wider and more varied employment. The full range of the assistance and Government financial support available to encourage development in rural areas is set out in the booklet Rural Scotland, copies of which were sent to local authorities on 10 March under cover of a letter from the Industry Department for Scotland.

3. The Government have decided that in these changed circumstances there should be changes in the extent to which agricultural land is protected by the planning system against development. In future when considering the allocation of land for development and in deciding applications for planning permission that affect a cultural land, planning authorities should consider the implications for agriculture alongside the implications for economic development and for the environment. In addition to the consequences of the potential loss of agricultural land authorities should consider the extent to which other economic activity and employment could be generated and the continuing need to protect the scenic and other qualities for which the countryside is valued.

4. Within that general approach there is a continuing need to restrict development on agricultural land of prime quality. Such land constitutes less than 6% of agricultural land in Scotland. Demand for products fluctuates over time and once land is developed it can seldom be returned to agricultural use. It therefore remains desirable that the best and most versatile land should not be built on unless there is no other suitable site for the particular purpose. Such land is a national resource for the longer term and there should therefore be a presumption in favour of its protection from irreversible development. Clearly, in cases involving development of such land, additional weight needs to be given to the agricultural factor when considering the application.

5. This does not mean that all other agricultural land is being freed for development. There is no change in the scope of planning control, and each application for planning permission' will still have to be considered individually on its merits having regard to the provisions of the development plan and to any other material considerations, as required by section 26(1) of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1972. The changes in policy simply alter the weight to be given to the various factors to be considered and in particular mean that rather less weight should now be given to retaining agricultural land in production.

6. There is no change in the policies for conserving and protecting National Scenic Areas, Green Belts, Sites of Special Scientific Interest, conservation areas designated under section 262 of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1972 and other specially protected area. The requirement to protect the countryside from inappropriate development remains as strong as ever and the Government expect planning authorities to continue to act in accordance with the relevant guidance including that in SDD Circular 24/1985 concerning development in the countryside and green belts and in SDD Circulars 20/1980 and 9/1987 concerning National Scenic Areas.

Role of DAFS

7. Planning authorities should continue to consult DAFS in the preparation of structure and local plans for their area. Advice from DAFS during the development plan process will help planning authorities identify locations which can be developed without harming the agricultural interest. Such consultation will also enable DAFS to draw attention to any locations where land which is not of prime quality may for particular reasons require to be protected on agricultural grounds.

8. There will continue to be no need for consultation with DAFS on individual proposals which are consistent with the policies of an approved Structure Plan and adopted local plan. Where however the development would be contrary to an approved or adopted local plan or where no local plan is in place planning authorities should consult DAFS in individual cases if the application involves 2 hectares or more of prime quality agricultural land (ie land of Classes 1, 2 and 3.1 in the land capability classification for agriculture as developed by the Macaulay Land Use Research Institute, Aberdeen) or 10 hectares or more of other agricultural land. DAFS should only be consulted about applications involving less than 10 hectares of non-prime land if authorities have reason to believe that there are particular local factors which could justify protection on agricultural grounds. Where DAFS are consulted about a development involving prime agricultural land and object to the proposal, the Secretary of State should be notified of the application if the planning authority nevertheless propose to grant planning permission. No such requirement, however, applies where DAFS object to proposals concerning other agricultural land. An amending Direction to give effect to these arrangements is at Annex A. (This and the other amendments to the 1981 Direction will be consolidated in a new Direction to be issued shortly.)

9. Special circumstances apply to croft land where relatively small areas of land, even if not prime land, can be critical for the continuation of crofting agriculture. There is no need for consultation where proposed development consists of croft housing or traditional small-scale agriculturally related development but in all other cases where croft land is involved planning authorities should continue to consult the Crofters' Commission, through the DAFS Area Office, before determining applications which are either contrary to an adopted or approved local plan or where no local plan is in place.

10. Annex B gives information and technical guidance on agricultural matters to assist authorities in their consideration of the applications for which consultation with DAFS is no longer required.

Re-use of existing buildings

11. Authorities should seek to support their policies for the protection of the scenic and other qualities for which the countryside is valued by encouraging the re-use of existing buildings in rural areas - particularly buildings which are redundant or have fallen into disrepair. The re-use of such buildings can help to reduce demands for new development while at the same time helping new enterprises and providing new jobs. Many commercial and other activities can be carried on in rural areas without causing unacceptable disturbance. Subject to the provisions of SDD Circulars 20/1980 and 24/1985 proposals for the re-use of existing buildings in rural areas -including non-agricultural buildings - should not be refused unless there are specific and convincing reasons which cannot be overcome by attaching reasonable conditions to the planning permission.

12. A revised National Planning Guideline on agricultural land and a revised Land Use Summary Sheet are being issued at the same time as this Circular.

13. Any enquiries about this circular and Annex A should addressed to Miss T Teale (031 244 4080) or Mr P. Ritchie (031 244 4079). Enquiries about Annex B should be addressed to Mr R Grant (031 443 4020 Ext 2602).

Yours faithfully



In exercise of the powers conferred on him by Articles 10(8) and 11 of the Town and Country Planning (General Development) (Scotland) Order 1981, as amended, and of all other powers enabling him in that behalf, the Secretary of State hereby gives the following direction.

1. The Town and Country Planning (Notification of Applications) (Scotland)

Direction 1981 is hereby amended as follows:-

In the Schedule to the Direction delete paragraph 1 of Part E and insert

" 1. Agricultural Land

Development which would involve a change of use of 2 hectares or more of a cultural land identified as being of class 1, 2 or 3.1 in the land capability classification for agriculture as developed by the Macaulay Land Use Research Institute, Aberdeen, where-

(a) either the development would be contrary to a local plan which has been adopted or approved, or no local plan has been adopted or approved; and

(b) either an officer of the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland, on being consulted by the planning authority, has advised against granting permission, or no such officer has been consulted."

2. This direction is given to all general, regional and district planning authorities in Scotland.

3. This direction may be cited as the Town and Country Planning (Notification of Applications) (Scotland) (Amendment) Direction 1987.

Assistant Secretary
Scottish Development Department
New St Andrew's House
October 1987

1. Agricultural Land Quality

With the issue of this circular the system of land classification which DAFS have operated for some 40 years (A+, A, B+ etc.) is superseded by a system of Land Classification for Agriculture (LCA) based on the work of the Department of Soil Survey of the Macaulay Institute for Soil Research, and now merged with the HFRO and titled the Macaulay Land Use Research Institute.

The land classes in the new LCA and a brief description of each are as follows: -




Land capable of producing a very wide range of crops.


Land capable of producing a wide range of crops.


Land capable of producing consistently high yields of a narrow range of crops and/or moderate yields of a wider range.


Land capable of producing a moderate range of crops. Average arable land.


Land capable of producing a narrow range of crops. Below average arable land.


Land capable of producing a narrow range of crops. Marginal arable land.


Land capable of use as improved grassland. Land is well suited to improvement.


Land capable of use as improved grassland. Land is moderately suited to improvement.


Land capable of use as improved grassland. Land is marginally suited to improvement.


Land capable of use only as rough grazings. Land has high grazing value.


Land capable of use only as rough grazings. Land has moderate grazing value.


Land. capable of use only as rough grazings. Land has low grazing value.


Land of a very limited agricultural value.

Classes 1, 2 and 3.1 of the new system equate broadly to classes A+, A and B+ of the former system and may likewise be described as "prime quality land".

Prime quality land is a valuable and flexible national resource and as such should continue to be protected from irreversible development. Land other than prime quality land is no longer generally in need of comparable protection but can in particular local circumstances be important for the maintenance of a cultural employment and the rural economy. Relatively small areas of croft land can, for example, be critical to the continuation of crofting agriculture.

Maps of Land Capability for Agriculture (LCA) were published in 1982 at a scale of 1:250,000. These maps, which are accompanied by descriptive handbooks, provide the regional pattern of land classes throughout Scotland and set agricultural resource's in their national context. The maps may be interpreted to within 100 ha and are the only land class maps available for hill land. For the main arable areas of Scotland, however, maps are also now available at a scale of 1:50,000 and these allow identification of land class to within 10 ha. Classification of areas smaller than this should be made only after site surveys because soil properties and topography may vary over short distances. For the same reason enlargement of either scale of map is not recommended

Land classification maps, handbooks and a monograph explaining the system in detail can be purchased from the Macaulay Land Use Research Institute, Craigiebuckler, Aberdeen, AB9 2QJ; telephone 01224 318611.

2. Farm Size and Structure

Farms vary considerably in size, type of farm business and layout. The loss of a part of a holding can have important implications for the viability of the remainder. The effect of severance and fragmentation upon the farm and its structure may be relevant. The structure of an agricultural area is also important, for the development of a particular site within a compact agricultural area may cause problems for the efficient functioning of a number of farms. For example, a major drainage system serving several farms may be disrupted by a development resulting in the need to re-design and replace part or all of the original system.

3. The Location of Development in Relation to Farms

The proximity of other development to farms and its nature, can influence the type of farming and the extent to which inherent land quality can be exploited. Certain locations may have certain agricultural advantages such as accessibility to markets, processing plants and certain industries associated with agriculture. Conversely, farms close to urban developments tend to suffer from trespass and other forms of disturbance which may affect the efficiency and upkeep of holdings. It may be possible to, reduce any detrimental knock-on effects of development by locating compatible uses adjacent to farm land, by landscaping or by detailed provision in the layout of residential development.

4. Buildings and Other Fixed Equipment

The efficiency of farms can be affected by the condition and extent of buildings and other fixed equipment. The full use of these assets could be impaired by the loss of specific sites to development and there may be proposals to improve buildings and equipment which are tied to investment decisions already taken. The effect an the capital investment of a farm should, therefore, be taken into account as part of the consideration of the agricultural case.

The addresses and telephone numbers of DAFS Local Offices and the areas they serve are attached.



Comprising (former Counties and Parishes)


Northern Isles


DAFS, Charlotte House,
Commercial Road,
Tel. 0595 4040


Tankerness Lane,
KW15 1AQ.
Tel. 0856 3301


Caithness and Sutherland, Kincardine Parish in Ross

Strathbeg House
Clarence Street,
KW14 7JS.
Tel. 0847 63104

Local Sub-Office

DAFS, Ord Croft,
IV27 4AZ


Ross (mainland) (excluding Kincardine Parish), Inverness mainland and Small Isles, Parish of Cromdale in Moray, Nairn.

DAFS, Government Building,
28 Longman East,
Inverness IV1 1SF
Tel. 0463 234141

Local Sub-Office

DAFS, Government Building,
1 Castle Street,
IV15 9HC.

Skye and Western Isles


Estates Office,
IV51 9DH.
Tel. 0478 2516.

Lewis and Harris

10 Keith Street
PA87 2QG.
Tel. 0851 2392.

Uists and Barra

Balivanich, Isle
Of Benbecula PA88 5LA.
Tel. 0870 2346.



Canmeron House
Albany Street,
PA34 4FAE.
Tel. 0631 63071.

North Eastern

Banff Aberdeen (parishes of Cairnie, Glass, Huntly, Forgue, Drumblade, Gartly and King Edward) Moray (excluding Cromdale Parish).

DAFS, 33 Balloch Road
Keith AB5 3HN
Tel. 05422 2393.

Local Sub-Office

New Crown Office
Trinity Road, Elgin
IV30 1RN.
Tel. 0343 3981.


Aberdeen (less Parishes of Cairnie, Glass, Huntly, Forgue, Drumblade, Gartly and King Edward). Kincardine.

DAFS, Atholl House,
84-88 Guild Street,
AB9 2ZL.


Angus and Dundee Longforgan Parish of Perth

132 Seagate,
Tel. 0382 28931.

Perth and Kinross

Perth (less Parishes of Longforgan, Killin, Balquidder, Callander, Aberfoyle, Port of Menteith, Kincardine, Dunblane, Kilmadoch and Muckhart).Kinross.

DAFS, 7 Mill Street,
Perth PH1 5HZ
Tel. 0738 21261.

Clyde and Central

Dumbarton (excluding Cumbernauld Parish) Renfrew Lanark Bute (excluding Cumbrae Parish)

DAFS, 631 Paisley Road West,
Glasgow G51 1RR.
Tel. 041 427 6521.

Perth (Parishes of Killin, Balquidder, Callander, Aberfoyle, Port of Menteith, Kincardine, Dunblane, Kilmadoch and Muckhart) Stirling Clackmannan Bo'ness Parish in West Lothian Cumbernauld Parish in Dumbarton.

DAFS, Government Building
2 St Ninians Road,
Stirling FK8 2HR.
Tel. 0786 3181.

South Western

Ayr, Wigtown and Arran Cumbrae Parish in Bute

DAFS, Russell House,
King Street
Tel. 0292 266931.


Dumfries and Kirkcudbright

DAFS, 161 Brooms Road,
Dumfries DG1 3ES.
Tel. 0387 53100.

Lothians and Fife

East Lothian, West Lothian (excluding Bo'ness Parish) and Midlothian (excluding Stow and Heriot Parishes). Fife

DAFS, Government Building,
Broomhouse Drive.
Saughton, Edinburgh
EH11 3XD.

Tel. 031 443 4040.

Local Sub-Office

DAFS, Rathcluan House,
Cupar, KY15 4HY.
Tel. 0334 52467.


Berwick, Roxburgh, Selkirk, Peebles, Midlothian (Stow and Heriot Parishes)

DAFS, Cotgreen Road,
Galashiels TD1 3SG.
Tel. 0896 58333.