Farm Diversification: holding car boot sales on your farm?
Car boot sales can be a profitable farm diversification for farms that are in the right location, but they come with multiple rules, regulations and other considerations.
Just as charity shops have populated the UK’s high streets in recent years, so too has the car boot sale become a ubiquitous feature in the countryside. The British public can’t resist a bargain and this has been a key driver to the proliferation of sales in farm fields.
Michael Mack, of The Rural Consultant, says it can be a relatively straightforward business to set up, but it can’t be done half-heartedly.
“You have to do it well, maximise stallholder numbers and capture add-on fees, such as a share of the income from hospitality providers,” he says. “If you give customers a good experience they will come back.”
Hosting a car boot sale requires careful consideration and planning, both to satisfy legislation and ensure local communities aren’t affected by traffic congestion and litter.
Things to consider when setting up a car boot sale as a farm diversification
Do I need planning permission?
Under the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995, a landowner can use open land for a car boot sale for up to 14 days without a requirement for planning permission.
But the 14 days apply to every day that a field is being used for anything other than agricultural purposes, so setting up and clearing up days must to be factored in.
“The field must be completely clear the day before and after a sale for those days not to count. Even leaving items on the field such as a portable toilet or a shelter could be construed as continued use,” Mr Mack advises. “It is a good idea to keep evidence that this rule is being complied with as a local resident could very easily complain and this could result in a visit by an enforcement officer. Having a diary or other evidence of when a sale started and finished can help in that situation.”
If the 14-day threshold is exceeded, planning permission is required and that is the case too if any permanent structures or new access gateways are created.
Does the event need to be licensed?
Even when sales are run for 14 days or less, the local authority must be advised that a market is taking place, as an operating licence is required. Fees vary according to council, with some charging an annual rate and others for each event. The applicant must demonstrate that there is a strategy in place for controlling noise, litter and traffic.
Will I need to pay business rates?
There is specific rating guidance regarding car boot sales, which should be checked with a local ratings officer or tax adviser.
Is it better to outsource to a third party?
There are third-party car boot sales operators that are actively looking to rent land, says Simon Foster, of Savills. The benefit of this is they are taking on the risk; in return, the farmer gets a lower income.
“There are some really good third-party operators, but there are also some that are less reputable,” says Mr Foster. “It is your reputation on the line as the landowner so you have to make sure you are partnering with someone who is going to do it well.”
If a third party is involved, make sure they have a plan in place for car parking, staffing and rubbish collection.
The setting up of car boot sales mostly happens very early in the day with some sellers turning up from 6am. They also involve a lot of people and car movements and this can have a negative effect on the community.
“It is important to be courteous and respectful of the local community,” says Mr Mack. “An operator needs to work out how to get cars off the road quickly so that they are queuing on their land and not on the main highway.”
Suitability of your farm for this diversification
Soil type is important – free-draining soil will mean fewer cancellations following heavy rain or time spent towing vehicles off the site if conditions deteriorate.
Separate entry and exit points will be needed too unless a gateway is wide enough to allow cars to arrive and leave at the same time to prevent queuing on the road and irate drivers waiting in the field. Some councils specify a minimum width of 4.5m for a gateway used for entry and exit.
Marshals will be needed to direct traffic and to manage operations on site. Make sure they are well briefed, can work efficiently and are kitted out in high-visibility clothing.
“There might be disputes on the field so marshals must be capable of dealing with situations like that,” says Mr Mack.
Insurance providers offer tailor-made cover for occasional sales, incorporating public liability.
Mr Foster recommends a minimum £20m worth of public liability insurance for events of this type.
“Sadly there have been fatalities and serious injuries and the claims made have been substantial,” he says.
He advises that a risk assessment of the site must take place.
“As a landowner you have a duty of care: to the event promoter if you are hiring out the site for a sale or to the public if you are running it. If a third party is involved you must provide them with a copy of that risk assessment.”
To qualify for inheritance tax (IHT) and agricultural property relief (APR), land must have been owned and occupied for agricultural purposes for at least seven years when it is occupied by someone else, or at least two years where it is occupied by the owner.
The legislation refers to the purpose of the occupation being mainly for husbandry, so occasional use for a car boot sale may not necessarily preclude the land from qualifying, says accountant Martyn Dobinson, of Saffery Champness.
However, if the use is not mainly husbandry, or the land is taken out of agricultural use permanently, then it won’t qualify.
“Each case would need to be considered on its own merits as the position may not be conclusive,” says Mr Dobinson.
In terms of VAT, there have been several successful challenges by HMRC where it has been deemed that VAT should have been applied to the pitch fees.
Mr Dobinson advises organisers to have evidence to support their position should they need to defend an HMRC enquiry.
“The implications will also depend on whether the event organiser is VAT-registered and whether, for those that aren’t, the additional taxable income tips the organiser over the VAT registration threshold of £85,000,” he says.
Marketing your farm diversification
Temporary field signs could be used, but there are specific planning laws around signage so check with the local authority what is permissible as they will be quick to police signs that contravene the rules.
“Charity events have some exemptions for field signs for advertising, but this won’t apply to a commercial event like a car boot sale,” says Mr Mack.
He also recommends creating a business page on Facebook to promote the event.
Visiting other car boot sales in the locality is the best way to gauge what fee level to set as you will be in competition with them.
Farm diversification case study: Tripes Farm, Orpington, Kent
The George family have been running 14 car boot sales a year at Tripes Farm, Orpington, Kent, since 1988, after selling their dairy herd to develop farm diversification. Their land sits on the urban fringe within the London borough of Bromley, a highly populated region, and is easily accessible.
They opted to run the sales themselves and in recent years brother and sister Hartley and Claretta George have been taking care of everything from maintenance to licence applications. The first sales attracted about 30 sellers, but there can now be as many as 250.
Mr George says the sales have a good reputation and that is important. “We always try to be well managed and a lot of the people who come here tell us how well-mannered the marshals are.” The site also has a block of five plumbed-in toilets which are kept clean and well maintained. While some operators will try to save money by not cutting the grass, the Georges always mow their field before a sale, although commissioning a contractor is another cost.
It sits on chalk soil so even if there is heavy rain during the week it will have drained away before the weekend sale.
An Occasional Sale licence is needed for every event. Bromley council charges £278 but offers a discount if 14 licences are bought at once, bringing the annual cost down to £3,503. With each application a plan of the field layout must be provided, showing detail such as litter disposal points, as well as the areas dedicated to parking and an estimate of the number of people who may attend.
The regulations the Georges must adhere to under the London Local Authorities Act 1996 state that registration cards must be given to each seller to display those details on their pitch for customers to see.
Sellers are charged a scale of fees – £12 a car, £15 for smaller vans and £18 for anything larger than a standard van. There is an additional £1 charge for trailers. With other operators putting up their fees this year due to rising costs, the Georges are also considering an increase.
“I worry that for a small amount it might put people off, but all of our costs are increasing, for instance the diesel to mow the grass,” says Mr George.
There is no entry fee for buyers – some operators will charge 50p to browse, but that can result in parking on the local verges and laybys. One of the negative aspects of running a sale is clearing up litter that is left behind.
“We used to have a skip full of rubbish at the end of every sale, but we are now getting harder on people, and we have marshals going around monitoring this,” he says. “We still have to hire a skip, but a much smaller one, and we keep this out of sight and it is mostly only half full after each sale.”
The business also pays litter pickers. “If you are grazing a field with sheep afterwards you don’t want rubbish on the site,” says Mr George.
He says hosting the sales is profitable, but not as much as it once was, due to higher staffing, administrative, waste disposal and advertising costs, although the advertising budget has been reduced by relying on reputation and social media outlets.
There is much more competition from online sites too, Mr George adds.