Wednesday June 14 2017

Rural landowners urged to capitalise on unique conditions facing rural sector

Rural landowners urged to capitalise on unique conditions facing rural sector

By taking control of their business and investing in a broader business base, landowners can protect themselves in the current climate despite Brexit uncertainties.

RURAL LANDOWNERS are being urged to put Brexit fears aside and see today’s climate as a clear opportunity for investment in rural business growth, claim a leading rural advisory firm.

With Article 50 triggered and changes in the payment of farm subsidies, trade tariffs and fiscal policy, the future of the rural economy seems uncertain.

The landscape is shifting for many rural landowners who have relied on agriculture as a source of income. It is likely the nature of subsidy payments will change dramatically once Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) payments come to an end. With a move away from this regime planned for 2020, a clear deadline has been set for an alternative approach.

In a new whitepaper, Rural Solutions articulates its vision for Positive Asset Management to futureproof land and property assets. The authors urge landowners to plan ahead to ensure long-term preservation and success.

Positive Asset Management

The whitepaper “Positive Asset Management in a Changing Rural Economy” responds to the uncertainty of many commentators.

“Ours is an age of uncertainty, but it is also one of opportunity. Conditions are ripe for rural estate owners to pursue ambitious plans for business growth and diversification,” explains William Fry, founder and managing director of Rural Solutions.

“In a time of change, entrepreneurial landowners can build thriving rural enterprises that capitalise on the unique conditions facing rural estates in the run up to 2020.

“Positive Asset Management is a cultural shift which adopts five key principles that can make a difference to the future success of rural estates and landowners. It involves thinking creatively, knowing your market, thinking long-term, de-risking investment and drawing on expert advice.

“It also involves estate principals and landowners adopting an entrepreneurial attitude to their businesses, and thinking positively when seeking inspiration for growth that will preserve their estates for future generations.”             

The authors argue that the uncertainty surrounding the years ahead act as a driver for bold investment. By taking control of their business and investing in a broader business base, landowners can protect themselves in the current climate despite Brexit uncertainties.

Encouraging landowners to take advantage of the conditions currently facing the rural sector, the whitepaper outlines several enablers for success.

The Government’s commitment to simplify the planning process through the National Planning and Policy Framework (NPPF) is an engine to fuel social and economic growth, putting sustainability at the heart of successful planning.

William explains: “Deregulated planning presents a huge opportunity for rural landowners. Where planning was once a barrier to growth, it’s now seen as a key instrument to its achievement.

“Planning applications that evidence a clear economic gain for the local area, a social role in building communities, environmental stewardship and how they enhance the built environment – tend to be given the green light.”

The public’s growing affinity with the countryside is also having a positive impact.

William adds: “Wise investment in a broader business base, less reliant on agriculture or forestry and more focused on leisure and tourism, can leverage today’s vibrant consumer appeal for goods and services associated with the countryside.

“The final enabler for change is a positive investment culture, favourable towards rural enterprises that are looking to diversify. Historically low interest rates are now making lending an attractive option to businesses who may have traditionally relied on funding investment out of reserves.”

Changing pattern of rural enterprise

The Savills Estate Benchmarking Survey 2016[1] offers a timely insight into the changing pattern of rural enterprise, demonstrating a notable shift away from agriculture as a source of landowners’ income and an almost threefold increase in the significance of the leisure sector.

Since 2000, agriculture has gone from being the most significant activity undertaken by landowners, making up almost a half of their income, to accounting for just over a third of their revenue in 2016 - 55% of this income will come from subsidies.

Income from residential property has increased from 36.7% in 2000 to 43.4% in 2016, making it the most significant revenue stream for rural businesses.

Commercial developments have risen by 2% to 9.4% and leisure has grown from 1.9% in 2000 to 5.6% in 2016.

Leisure may currently be the smallest source of income for landowners, but the white paper explains the exponential rise in leisure points to an obvious pattern: the sector is growing in significance for UK landowners.

William concludes: “In a period of uncertainty, it can be tempting for businesses to do nothing. But by maintaining a steady course, they miss out on opportunities to grow, and may well weaken their enterprise.

“The wider economic, environmental and social conditions have never been more suited to the growth of rural businesses. They serve as an encouragement to rural estate principals and landowners to act now, to make bold but sound investments that Brexit-proof their businesses and lay the foundations for it to thrive.”

Rural Solutions has worked exclusively in the rural sector for more than two decades. Based in Skipton they specialise in responsible and sustainable rural development and planning, providing support and advice to large land and estate owners to help them adapt and develop their estates.

Landowners who have created thriving rural businesses

The Bolesworth Estate, Cheshire

With 6,500 acres of land and 300 properties, the Bolesworth Estate is a modern, thriving rural enterprise with a bright future.

To make sure it realises its potential, the estate management team has pursued a number of strategies that maximise its assets.

“We want to ensure that the Estate continues to grow and thrive, as well as providing a firm foundation for the future,” explains estate manager, Matthew Morris. “At the same time, we want to respect the unique qualities that make Bolesworth a special place to live, work and enjoy.”

To that end, the Estate has diversified into a number of sectors, including commercial property, residential development (including the retirement sector), an energy company, and visitor attractions. It also hosts events such as CarFest North and the Bolesworth International Horse Show, as well as running the Liverpool International Horse Show.

Bolesworth employs Rural Solutions to assist with a variety of planning applications, enabling it to continue diversify and grow. The company has also helped develop a strategic plan for the Estate as a whole.

The Ice Cream Farm, Cheshire

If there are two things that complement one another perfectly, it is family days out and ice cream.

That goes some way to explaining the success of The Ice Cream Farm in Cheshire – a business that Rural Solutions has helped to become the UK’s largest free-to-enter farm visitor attraction, with upwards of 820,000 visitors a year.

Established in the 1980s as a way of adding value to surplus milk supply, Cheshire Farm Ice Cream has grown into a broad-based rural business that includes production, wholesale, retail and a highly popular tourist attraction.

“In the last few years, we decided to expand our visitor attraction site,” explains the company’s owner and director, Jonathan Fell. “This involved analysis of our footfall data to see what parts of our offer resonated with visitors. Rural Solutions helped to develop the business and planning model that enabled us to upscale our operation.

“Now, we’re hoping to replicate our success on other sites in the UK, and that combination of business and planning nous will be crucial to achieving our ambitions.”


Photo captions:

1.      William Fry, Managing Director – Rural Solutions


[1] Savills World Research, 2016, Estate Benchmarking Survey, p. 3, available at: http://pdf.euro.savills.co.uk/uk/rural---other/ebs-2016.pdf accessed on 21 March, 2017.


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