Insurance and financial services giant Zurich is disposing of its 4,227-acre Hampshire estate after a review of its farmland investment portfolio.
The Sutton Scotney Estate lies between Winchester, Basingstoke and Andover and is for sale as a whole for £45m.
Zurich, which still owns a significant acreage of UK agricultural land, said the decision was based on its “obligation to policyholders” and was not in relation to its failure to secure support to build 12,500 homes on part of the land.
In 1990, Eagle Star – which was subsequently bought by Zurich – proposed the creation of a new settlement around the village of Micheldever Station.
It was rejected after significant local opposition, but has been brought back to life a number of times since, most recently in 2007, when it was reincarnated as an “eco-town” after the government announced its ambition to build 10 new such developments in the UK.
Local and regional planners have consistently rejected applications, but Giles Wordsworth, director of rural at selling agent Savills, said the company had not proactively pursued the opportunity and that prospective buyers would include developers that had the experience and desire to take the plans forward.
“[Zurich] has been more reactive in recent years than proactive with regards to developing the site,” Mr Wordsworth said.
“They’re selling because they’ve done an asset evaluation. They regularly review their assets within their property fund to ensure their obligation to policyholders is met.”
National and international investors may also be interested in the estate, which is entirely let with a commercial rent roll exceeding £635,000/year.
Its predominantly arable land is in the hands of four farmers who operate under a variety of farm business and Agricultural Holdings Act tenancies.
A little less than one-third of the estate could be brought back in hand within two years, but the remainder is let long term. The estate’s 24 houses are either let long term or on assured shorthold tenancies.
Savills says a farmer is unlikely to be the winning bidder.
“We know a number of people who would be interested in a good let portfolio of properties with secure tenants and a rent roll from institutional investors to developers,” Mr Wordsworth said. “There is something here that can’t be seen anywhere else in the country.”