The success of any business is largely due to how effectively the people involved work together. And nowhere is that more true than on a rural estate, where success is influenced by a huge number of different stakeholders.
Taking a collaborative and objective view is therefore a must for any far-sighted rural estate owner aiming for best practice.
The complexities of modern land ownership and management mean that today’s rural estate is dominated by the interdependent relationships, needs and expectations of landowners, trustees, managers, tenants, local communities and planning authorities. That feeds in to the recent changes we’ve seen within the planning system where the most successful applications are those developed in advance of submission by landowners and multiple parties working together to offer a solution they all support.
The benefits of collaboration
When you work together with stakeholders you are in a great position to achieve much of your estate strategy. While you may not get everything you want, gaining three quarters of it is a good outcome. Working with stakeholders offers insights into what they want, making it easier to find a way forward, particularly if you are considering ways to diversify (see ‘Diversification and Development’, page 10) or there are compulsory purchase issues to resolve (see ‘Compulsory purchase and the changing face of infrastructure projects’, page 04).
Sustainable production is the holy grail of industry today and encompasses everything from responsible land management and farming to supporting biodiversity and working with local communities and supply chains. Collaboration is the only way to achieve these stringent sustainability criteria across your estate.
The value of your land in rental terms depends on its productivity, so anything that can be done to boost this is in your interest. When all your estate operations work together you can reduce costs, maximise output and gain the best prices.
On a complex rural estate, it makes sense to collaborate with the many stakeholders involved. As well as ensuring you’re in the best position to achieve your aims, it opens the door to new opportunities and ideas.
Who should you be working with?
Rural estates cannot move, so taking a long-term view of your interactions with neighbours and locals is vital, particularly over potentially contentious issues. If a neighbour is looking to sell or change their property, you want to be the first to know.
Agricultural, commercial and residential tenants are your customers. Help them to succeed and you’ll benefit too. That might mean negotiating a more flexible or shorter lease (typical lease lengths are now 5-7 years), so be open to how the relationship can look and work. Many estates are now farmed via contract or share farming arrangements, with fewer farmers and employees working the land. Working closely with them will help to enhance value and reduce risk. And when people leave make sure you stay in touch with them as their knowledge is invaluable.
Are trustees involved in the ownership of your estate? Although they may ask difficult questions it’s important to remember that they’re acting in your best interests, and their input may highlight issues that have been overlooked.
Understanding the pressures that planners are under to meet targets can help you to find ways forward.
The most far-sighted estates no longer take the traditional ‘them and us’ approach to working with planners. Understanding the pressures that planners are under to meet targets can help you to find ways forward. For example, if you involve them early, and are open and realistic, they can become helpful allies.
It’s time to take control
Rural estates are geographically fixed and must have long-term aspirations. Yet they’re subject to short term shocks in commodity prices and yields and are influenced by global factors. The best practice for your rural estate is to take control of every variable you can and focus on managing relationships with stakeholders so you can smooth the journey for everyone involved.
Rural estates are geographically fixed and must have long-term aspirations.