December Ponderings

December Professional Ponderings 2020 Round-up Across the Departments

AGRICULTURAL TEAM

Many of you will be pleased to hear that BPS payment rates for 2020 have been confirmed at £233 per eligible hectare for non-SDA land. You should expect to receive your 2020 BPS claim monies in the coming weeks and may indeed have received payment already. Do ensure that you check the payment is correct and Grace Millbank in the Bletsoes Agricultural team will be pleased to help in this respect. For flexibility and overall ease with cropping and BPS, it is positive that earlier in the Autumn, the Rural Payments Agency confirmed that in 2021, farmers are no longer required to meet the Crop Diversification or Ecological Focus Area rules and requirements.  2020 was the final year before BPS payments will start to be reduced from 2021, with an eventual end to BPS in 2027, consequently no BPS payment will be received in 2028. Other schemes will be available to farmers and land managers under the new proposed Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS), although we are awaiting further details to be confirmed and announced as to the detail of these schemes.

 

Bletsoes continue to act for a number of clients in respect of Compulsory Purchase Schemes. The Midlands is one of the fastest growing areas of the UK and therefore road, rail and utility schemes are only going to increase as infrastructure, commercial and residential development expands around us. The A428 Black Cat to Caxton Gibbet Road Improvement Scheme is in the initial stages, with landowners being approached by Highways England for access for surveys. Even if you have not been contacted to date by Highways England, but you believe your property may be affected by this scheme, then do please speak to Chris Templar.

 

As well as the A428 scheme, members of the Agricultural Team at Bletsoes have for a number of years been acting on behalf of clients in respect of the A14 Cambridge to Huntingdon Improvement Scheme, which has had significant impacts on the holdings affected and has presented a number of challenges to overcome. The new 21 mile stretch of the A14 officially opened to traffic on 5th May 2020 8 months ahead of schedule, although there is still much to be done in terms of acting on behalf of our clients as the scheme starts to wind down. If you have been affected by the A14 Cambridge to Huntingdon Improvement Scheme and have not been represented by an Agent to date and would like to discuss the scheme further, please do not hesitate to contact Daisy Miles.

 

We have also been instructed by a number of clients to act on their behalf in respect of the East West Rail route, linking Oxford and Cambridge, which is also in its initial stages of obtaining access for surveys.  We continue to work with a number of clients affected by HS2. If you believe your property may be affected by these rail schemes and you wish to be represented, please contact Verity Garlick.

 

Aside from the increasing involvement with major infrastructure and Compulsory Purchase Schemes, the Agricultural Team have had a very busy year assisting clients with various business decisions and affairs, including succession planning or succession applications in respect of Agricultural Holdings Act tenancies. This area of work involves tax planning, restructuring of business assets and partnerships, setting up new contract farming and share farming arrangements or assisting clients with more complex tenancy matters including negotiated surrenders. Please do contact David Bletsoe or Nicola Clayton-Bailey if you would like to discuss any such matters in complete confidence.

 

During 2020, the whole team has been busy with sales of rural property and acquiring land on behalf of clients.  In the January edition of the Ponderings, we will provide our round-up of the year, with some predictions for 2021.

 

Despite the various challenges we have all had to try and overcome this year, whether that be weather conditions or the Covid-19 Pandemic, the Agricultural Team are always happy to help wherever possible and will continue to do so whatever the ‘new normal’ brings, so please do contact one of the team should you require any assistance, as we will be pleased to work with you.

 

PLANNING & DEVELOPMENT TEAM

2020 has proved to be quite an exceptional year for the Planning and Development team.  The year started with a very strong development land market which was continuing to build from previous years.  An early sale in January of a 600 plot site at Wellingborough reflected the strong market with a significant number of bids received and competitive interest yielding a good result for the Landowner.  This particular transaction is a good example of the work we do here at Bletsoes.  With this property, Alistair Brodie has been working with the family for a number of years to bring the site forward for development.  It has involved direct promotion of the site to the local planning authority, working through site issues, appointing a promoter to secure a formal planning permission and then marketing the site on the open market.  Our Agricultural team have also been involved in the management of the land as well as providing tax advice.  Wary of potential tax changes, we secured a formal exchange of contracts in December 2019 and the sale completed in January 2020, before the pandemic hit, after which the development land market paused with very few transactions taking place.  During the period at the start of COVID-19 we found that rather than pulling out of deals most developers sought to delay purchases and a number of the landowners we were acting for were prepared to be flexible and pleasingly, those transactions have now concluded at the prices originally agreed.

 

One of the most significant effects on the development land market since the pandemic hit has been the stamp duty holiday which has significantly increased the sale of new homes, to the extent that one developer recently commented that ‘he can’t build them quickly enough’.  The confidence in the market is leading to strong interest in immediate land with planning permission as well as significant interest from developers trying to secure land through option or promotion agreements.  As an example we have recently concluded a marketing exercise on a site for 75 dwellings at Irchester where very strong interest was generated, with a considerable number of offers received.  As a team we are currently negotiating over 15 option/promotion agreements on behalf of landowners with promoters and developers, in a number of counties.

 

We are fortunate that our area is being seen by the industry as a growth area and major infrastructure projects such as the recently completed improvements to the A14, the forthcoming improvements to the A428/A421 (part of the Oxford to Cambridge Express Way) and East West Rail link are all helping to create strong developer interest.  The government has large ambitions for the Oxford-Cambridge growth corridor, both in terms of housing numbers and business development and we are expecting more announcements on the delivery of growth in the corridor in the New Year.  As outlined above, we are advising a number of landowners on development opportunities in the region and this includes a number of very large new settlements along the infrastructure routes. 

 

The P&D team continue to offer a full planning and development service for our clients and, in addition to development agency, we also act for clients to secure planning permission directly themselves.  The planning system continues to be a slow and cumbersome process but perseverance and an in-depth knowledge of the system and the relevant authorities, has meant that we have secured a number of planning permissions through the year for residential new builds, class Q residential conversions, dwellings for rural workers, as well as a range of different agricultural buildings.

 

Our planning and development team’s workload continues to grow and we remain focused on acting in our clients best interests.  We have deliberately and consciously remained independent and have not sought to work for developers, in order that we can provide the most appropriate advice to clients and we are always happy to talk through any development matters which may be relevant to your business and landholdings.  Please contact Alistair Brodie, Peter Moore, Andrew Middleditch or Tristan Peck, if you wish to discuss any planning and development matters.

 

ESTATE AGENCY

Our Estate Agency team has been kept on their toes throughout 2020 in respect of both Sales and Lettings.  In the January edition of the Ponderings we will focus on a review of Property Sales across all sectors of the business over the past 12 months, including our Estate Agency, with some predictions for the year ahead.  Rentals are an important element of the overall service that we provide to clients and Residential lettings have remained markedly buoyant during 2020, despite the pandemic and all the challenges that it managed to throw at the Estate Agency sector. The Bletsoes Lettings team have managed to overcome the obstacles created by government restrictions relating to C-19 and adapt to an ever-changing situation, by implementing appropriate and required procedures and processes and continuing to provide a comprehensive service and professional advice to residential Landlords.

 

The Coronavirus outbreak had a fundamental impact upon individuals’ circumstances and incomes and, accordingly, the ability of some to pay their rent.  Through being proactive with good communication and a positive approach with Tenants and Landlords, we have addressed issues directly and sympathetically and worked with individuals. As a result, we have provided the service our Landlords expect and the team will end the year with only six cases of outstanding rent arrears. This is a huge credit to the team, who have worked hard throughout the year, to positively manage some difficult situations and maintain the relationship between the parties, whilst assisting and offering guidance where they can, in relation to steadily bringing any arrears down.

 

Demand for rentals has continued to outstrip supply since we came out of the first lockdown in the Summer and this appears to be consistent with the experience of other Letting Agents. We would normally expect to see the letting of properties to ease over the next few weeks, in the lead up to Christmas, although it is fair to say this year has been anything but normal, so watch this space!

 

We have been instructed to take on the management of many more properties since the start of this year, ranging from the four new apartments located in the old Barclays building in the centre of Thrapston, to a large four bedroom detached farmhouse on the outskirts of Peterborough. A number of these instructions have been based solely on recommendations, which the Lettings team are extremely proud of.  We currently look after well over 200 properties, the majority of which are Fully Managed by Bletsoes, with a number on our Let Only service.

 

If you wish to discuss the Residential Rental property which you own and the service that Bletsoes Estate Agency can provide, please do not hesitate to pick up the phone to Teresa Mutton or Lesley Barn on 01832 732188.

 

MARKETS & AUCTIONS

 

Auction Sales

It has been an extremely strange year, but it has been a long time since all classes of livestock have been in such high demand. A weak pound has helped a little, but of greater impact has been local lockdown measures throughout the year, making the supermarket customers return to buying locally produced food from their High Street butchers, farm shops and using small wholesalers. Hopefully realising what great British food actually tastes like.

 

Sheep

A fantastic year for both Thrapston and Stratford markets in the sheep sections. Throughput has increased and prices are up, with the finished lambs by over £10 per head on average throughout the season. This has caused a frenzy in the store lamb sections in the final quarter of the year, seeing prices increase by £10 - £20 and more per head, compared to last year’s sales.  This trade has also been driven by more grass and roots available against last year’s poor growing season. Breeding sheep sales have also seen increased values, by at least 20%+ with some prices leaping from £120 to £150 and more on the year. Selling through the live weight system gives a transparent way of selling and ensures that you are getting paid for all the weight, including fleece and skin. It would be excellent for more producers to take the time to market their goods through the livestock markets and enjoy the demand for their sheep, which they have proudly taken years to produce. As we have seen before, there are real benefits from forcing the buyers to come to market and choose what they require, rather than the producers running to the demands of those buyers and selling them something perhaps not in their specification, which often results in a poorer price for the product. Our weekly sales provide not just a livestock market, it’s more than just another outlet to sell your stock, but a meeting place to share farming experiences that everybody encounters. Markets benefit many peoples mental health too, working alone, listening to the negative predictions relating to the pandemic and Brexit, along with other pressures the government have given to industry and farmers, never mind the weather! It doesn’t do anyone’s health any good. Brexit may create a challenge for sheep prices, but with Europe’s production of sheep meat decreasing by over 30%, over the past few years, we may not see prices hit as hard as anticipated.

We are here to work with you and to ensure the best price for your stock. Sell Live and Thrive!

 

Cattle

A difficult trading year with cattle during the first three quarters of the year. We have seen a 10% increase in cattle numbers through our cattle ring, even though national data has shown the number of cattle births decreasing. This year our statistics show an average increase of up to £50 per head year on year for store cattle producers, with more on some stronger, heavier types at Thrapston. DEFRA have still not made changes to the six day rule and Tb is getting worse in many places, not better. The testing regulations have become more stringent and many farmers have been placed on a regime of more tests per year to try to eradicate the problem, only creating stress on farmers and their animals. We have tried to ease the burden by creating sales for non-tested stock with dedicated areas to sell these animals, but unfortunately this has not been taken up as we had hoped, perhaps it will in 2021, with hopefully more demand for cattle. Some cattle farmers have decided that their commitment and investment has not been financially rewarded for their breeding or finishing cattle and have consequently made decisions to cease their cattle enterprises all together, either moving to sheep or ploughing up their grass for cereals. Reduced numbers nationally, can increase the opportunities for others. Demand lifted during the final quarter of the year and some of this was due to the easing of the second national lockdown, with a further increase in demand for the Christmas trade, which saw prices jump. Vendors and buyers find it easier to value stock on good trades in the markets, rather than farm to farm. Live finished prices have increased in livestock markets similar to the sheep trade, buyers can chose more easily on the hoof, buying the goods that they want.

 

Machinery Sales

The pandemic created a challenging year for everyone, which has impacted upon the number of on-farm dispersal and collective sales that were held this year. There is however an increased interest to hold sales, which is being driven by more farmers retiring or changing their business structures to enable them to be more efficient in the way that they run their businesses. Our collective sale held at the end of the summer, was one of the best sales we have conducted for many years. Demand for second hand equipment is still at a premium, with new machinery prices rising each year and strong export to many countries around the world. Older used machinery can almost sell for as much as it was purchased when new.

 

This year has obviously been difficult, with many sales unable to be run in the way we have done over many years, by gathering large crowds at the event. Auctioneers around the UK have had to move to different ways of holding a sale to be socially distanced, with internet sales being held as timed auctions, or enabling people to bid online at a live auction. These types of online sale have moved on very quickly as the new way to sell, especially during lockdowns and they have been a helpful way to promote true auction sales, rather than no sales or private sales. Bletsoes offer these different marketing options, although ultimately it is important to carefully identify the best way to sell your goods. It could be a busy few years with sales and, if you are thinking about holding a sale, please do not hesitate to speak to Alastair Brown and Jake Wagstaff for comprehensive advice on holding a sale.

 

We wish all our clients a very Merry Christmas and a Prosperous New Year

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