RURAL LANDED ESTATES make a vital, but often unrecognized, contribution to the rural environment, community and the economy.
Often associated in the mind of the general public with National Trust type day visitor attractions or ‘huntin, shootin and fishin’ activities reserved solely for the ‘great and good’, Britain’s estates are much more involved in the rural economy from an agricultural, residential and commercial standpoint than one might think.
And this is not just true for Britain, but the same opportunities and relationships are demonstrated abroad too.
Investigations commissioned by the East Midlands Development Agency (EMDA) and the Country Land & Business Association (CLA) measured how rural estates benefit local communities and the wider economy.
In the East Midlands alone, rural estates support more than 18,000 jobs across a range of businesses. More than 70% of the estates are privately owned. Some 20% are owned by institutions or charities, with less than 10% falling under local authority or other public sector ownership.
In a report, “Working positively with rural estates”, EMDA showed that just under 300 rural estates in the East Midlands account for nearly a quarter (23%) of the region's land area. Together, they own a range of assets including agricultural land, houses, workspace and community facilities.
Estates provide 7,800 houses across the region and provide 13% of these houses at below market rents - equivalent to 27% of the social housing provision in their area. Researchers found an 81% growth in the area of workspace provided by estates over the last five years.
Two thirds of the estates own and maintain community facilities, providing at least 166 village halls in the region.
CLA regional director Helen Woolley said: "Estates make a significant contribution to the rural economy in the East Midlands. They also play a role in supporting their local community. EMDA's study into the potential benefits of the public sector working more positively with rural estates will improve our ability to support our members in fulfilling both these roles."
But the study also identified a number of barriers which prevent estates from either growing as they would like or developing their assets. These include slow broadband speeds, empty property taxes, complex planning processes and a lack of awareness of public sector funding opportunities.
And this is just for one region of the UK. The same situation is replicated throughout Britain to varying degrees. Just take a look at the many estate based workspaces advertised on www.ruralworkspace.co.uk that demonstrate just one aspect of this role in the rural economy.
A study of Cheshire and Warrington's market towns and surrounding rural areas (which are rich in landed estates) identified the need for a package of resources to improve their economic performance.
The research, commissioned on behalf of the (now wrapped up) Northwest Regional Development Agency (NWDA), identifies a range of public realm improvements to make each market town more attractive to shoppers and businesses alike.
A separate element of the report concluded there was a serious shortage of rural workspace opportunities in certain areas which was impacting upon the local economy.
Councillor Herbert Manley, Prosperity Portfolio Holder for Cheshire West and Chester Council, said: “It is vital there are enough commercial units available for rent in rural areas – otherwise businesses are forced to look elsewhere, which would be a huge loss to our rural c