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Planning ‘vital’ in helping rural estates diversify

Words: Laura Edgar
Hesleyside Hall / Peter McDermott

Tourism is a ‘low-hanging fruit’ that could help diversify what rural estates can offer and boost their finances, with planning ‘vital’ to achieving this, a new report claims.

Rural estates: Economic benefits of rural tourism, by planning consultancy Lichfields, states that rural estates are a mainstay of rural economies across Britain and it is “important” that they thrive.

However, many rural estates face “increasing financial pressures and are looking to reduce reliance upon traditional sources of income and explore opportunities for diversification”.

Planning plays a vital role in helping estates to diversify their revenue stream and unlocking value, the report says. It can secure longer-term sustainability of estates as well as “beneficial impacts for individuals, communities and the economy as a whole”.

Policy support for rural development is underpinned by an acknowledgement of the need to stimulate rural economies. “It is important that these benefits are clearly articulated in promoting diversification schemes through the planning system.”

In both England and Scotland, planning guidelines are focused towards supporting the rural economy, Lichfields said. Tourism-related developments can create new employment opportunities for local residents; stimulate demand for existing tourism assets in the local area and increasing the overall value of rural economies.

“Good planning will unlock value, provide greater stability and boost the local economy” - report on development on rural estates

Gordon Thomson, an associate director at Lichfields’ Edinburgh office and the report's author, said: “It is important that these impacts are robustly evidenced in order to maximise their ability to influence the decision-making process.”

Lichfields' report notes that for estates looking to “dip their toe” into the tourist accommodation market the development of campsites and pitches for touring caravans represent the best initial prospect.

Thomson said: “While these offer the lowest annual returns per bed-space, they also area likely to be subject to the lowest start-up and staffing costs. In addition, they can be low impact in land use terms, allowing estate owners to work around the limits of their land and the existing fabric of the estate.”

On the other hand, the planning consultancy said that hotels offer the greatest immediate revenue potential but require greater start up and running costs.

However, the report continues, most hotel stays are shorter than self-catering breaks and consequently average spend on accommodation for self-catering breaks is almost double that a hotel.

Thomson explained that it is important that rural estates seeking to diversify take this dynamic into account.

“For instance, locations with a wide variety of outdoor activities in the local area could hold more appeal for tourists seeking a longer break, in such circumstances, a lower cost accommodation offer, such as a hostel or campsite, may prove more successful than a hotel.”

Tourism-related development may not be right for every location, he added, suggesting that renewable energy projects and housing development might be more suitable.

“Tourism may be the low-hanging fruit for development which can provide significant financial benefits,” Thomson concluded.

Download Rural estates: Economic benefits of rural tourism here (pdf).

Image credit | Peter McDermott