H&H Land & Estates reflects on land-trading opportunities available despite challenging times

Thomas Armstrong

Amidst the unprecedented and challenging times of a worldwide pandemic, the H&H Land & Estates team is continuing to trade land and advising the rural industry on everything from grass lets to land sales and farm tenancies to BPS applications and grants.   Here Thomas Armstrong, Director covering the North West and Robert Jauneika, Chartered Surveyor covering the North East, reflect on progress within the land trading market in the first quarter of the year and the opportunities available and associated support for businesses and individuals to help them to stay one step ahead. 

Farming, a truly essential industry, now more than ever, is carrying on regardless and amidst the crisis, where supermarket shelves are emptying quicker than they can be replenished, is quite simply feeding a nation.   In a lock down that has resulted in a pause for most of the property market, agricultural land trading is still managing to keep its head above the parapet.  It has been a testing start to the Spring, a virus appeared to stop business in its tracks, but the H&H Land & Estates team considers if this really is the case and will the grass return to green any time soon?

Thomas explains: “The pause on house moves for the residential market has delayed sale completions, but the land trading market still remains mobilised, even if progress has slowed somewhat and needs to be carefully managed within government guidelines.” 

Despite this, we have still recently sold a substantial farming enterprise, Ellerton Grange, a substantial 221-acre farm located in the fertile Eden Valley, and this week sees the closing date for Westnewton Hall, a tremendous 32- acre livestock farm near Aspatria, which was due to be sold by Public Auction.

We are continuing to trade and this week our Kendal office launched to the market two significant parcels of land in the southern part of the county and already we have received an influx of enquiries, good news all round.

Little Asby near Kirkby Stephen, is 51 acres of productive meadow, pasture land and common rights land.  With good roadside and track access it is available as a whole for £165,000 or in three lots.  The other land is 54 acres at the Friths, Santon Bridge, Holmrook, within the Lake District National Park UNESCO World Heritage Site and is for sale for £150,000.

In the very early part of 2020 we advertised the ten year FBT tenancy for Prospect Farm, a dairy farm in Aspatria.  We are thrilled to report we have found an excellent tenant wanting to get more established on the farming ladder as well as a strong rental income for the landlord.

In the North East encouragingly, despite the challenges, we have recently sold a substantial residential property with land and farm buildings in County Durham, as well as a smallholding on the outskirts of Durham.  We are also continuing to market and trade land in these areas, and this week we have put a 4 acre block of pony paddock land with stables under offer for well in excess of £10,000 / acre and we expect the sale to complete shortly, much to the delight of our client.  In addition we still have the smallholding of Ingledene near Spennymoor available, a truly rare lifestyle property.

Robert adds: “If you are considering selling your farming enterprise or land, the message we want to share is that now is the time to start thinking about it and planning for it.   Just because the country is in a state of flux, it doesn’t mean that preparations can’t be made for when things return to normal. If you are looking to purchase, or indeed sell land there is always research that needs to be done, and preparations made so that the transaction can progress efficiently once things return to normal.”

Current evidence is highlighting that that interest is certainly out there, so landowners and would-be landowners should keep an eye on the market to snap up opportunities once the lock down ceases.  Although the land and property market has been impacted by the pandemic, rest assured there is still land available to buy with great potential for those looking to purchase, expand or diversify.

For example, the land at the Friths in Cumbria includes amenity woodland which has consistently continued to increase in popularity and value over the last few years.  Also, given a time of being largely house bound, there will be investors considering getting away from it once the lock down has lifted.

Another consequent factor of Covid-19 is that now is an excellent time to invest, as the Bank of England base rate of just 0.1% is at an all-time low. Never has there been such a time to borrow so cheaply for businesses.  It seems likely that underlying interest rates will have to be kept low for some time to help the economy recover after the crisis and so opportunity may exist to lock into some exceptionally low rates for planned expenditure, or indeed re-finance existing loans at a lower rate.   

Many business lenders are still "open for business" for proposals that come from well managed businesses that have a strong track record, although it may just take longer than usual to conclude as dealings will need to be conducted remotely.

Rocky Times!

We are also currently in the grass let season. These are always a great income-earner for farmers and important for livestock producers. For this year’s trading H&H Land & Estates had to adapt to the times and the recent annual grass lets auction was traded via sealed bids rather than the buzz of the auction room. Results from this demonstrated that there is a keen demand for good land, which local farmers who can both graze and mow. However, overall we did see an overall fall in demand for grassland this season, which is as a direct result of so many farmers managing to stock up on an abundance of crop last year.  Looking to the future, there are still opportunities out there even during a crisis and the grassland lets will I know help sustain many farming businesses over the coming summer months.

As well as land trading options to consider at this time, it is also deadline time for landowners for various schemes.  Thomas is keen to advise that the 2020 BPS deadline is 15th May and the team is already nearly 50% of the way through submitting the 2020 applications for clients.  A further deadline is 1st May 2020 for the Hedgerows and Boundaries Scheme, another valuable support to landowners. It is an excellent opportunity to obtain a grant of up to £10,000, whereby Hedgerow laying pays £9.40/m, Hedgerow coppicing £4/m and Stone wall restoration £25/m. 

Throughout the early parts of 2020, H&H Land & Estates has concluded several land development deals for a number of sites, with some significant and life changing sums of money involved for our clients. The pandemic has slowed the pace of housing developers, but there are still negotiations ongoing across the region for a range of sites, with developers always keen to assess potential opportunities.

Thomas concludes: “All in all, given the crisis we find ourselves in, we must focus on the positive and hope that once we are through the pandemic, that UK agriculture will be able to return to business as usual but with opportunities in the wings.  It is imperative at this time that we find ways to help sustain business in a new world context that now puts a much greater value on the food & farming industry.  The grass will be much greener on the other side.” 

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