A new column from the Campaign to Protect Rural England
WE ALL recognise Norfolk as being a special place. But what is the true value of its land and how do you measure it?
When we talk about its future it is clear that development land is much more valuable, in pure cash terms, than other land, however it is used.
This means that there is often a drive to obtain planning consent to raise the value of a site, giving the owner a windfall. But when a planning application is made there is very little consideration of the true comparative value of the site. So much of the planning of how we best use our very precious asset – land – for the future is skewed by a financial profit motive, not based upon the true long-term value the land has.
This may be the way the market has been encouraged to work, but is this in the best interests of Norfolk? If we changed the way we valued the land assets, would we end up with a better future for our county?
Looking at the value of land, perhaps its cash value is not the best place to start. If a piece of land absorbs excess water to protect an existing village or housing development from flood risk, what can we conclude about its value? In the same way, the land in question may be an important element in a landscape that attracts tourists, creating jobs and additional business for the neighbouring community. It could be a piece of land that, while being very suitable for affordable housing for local people, gets sold for more expensive housing as that gives a much higher sale price. Perhaps it is land for growing food and our future generations may come to regret the way we are squandering the opportunity for a future without food security.
Our living, working countryside needs a balance of all of these things and it needs the right kind and right amount of housing and other infrastructure in the right places. Many of our country estate owners have recognised the requirement for a different approach to land valuation, acknowledging that provision of community assets and facilities is, in the long term, more valuable than a short term cash bonus.
A county that can recognise this community value alongside cash value is a county that will prosper most in the longer term. It will have protected what makes it special, including its communities, and will give its economy more room for long-term growth. Such an approach would enable the right kind of housing where it is needed, currently simply not being provided, whilst properly protecting the countryside.
Landowners please step forward. Land held in public ownership must lead the way. Land should not always be measured simply by its suitability for development, and we risk long term damage to Norfolk if we do not take into account this hidden value not currently recognised in the decision-making processes.
Above and left: Planning permission has been put in for up to 300 dwellings near Downham Market.