The Crown Estate has just bought a 3600-acre Cheshire estate from Manchester University in a private deal worth over £35m.

Nick Harper, the Crown’s head of rural asset management and development, said the purchase of the Tabley Estate in Knutsford was the biggest purchase by the organisation, which owns 270,000 acres of agricultural land, for many years.

The deal, which excludes the estate’s Grade 1 mansion, covers 18 tenanted farms and 18 farmland lettings leased under a mixture of traditional and farm business tenancies, 52 residential properties and 13 commercial leases, including the Cheshire showground.

It dwarfs the Crown’s recent sales and acquisitions. The biggest purchase was the 2337-acre Ashby St Ledgers estate in Northamptonshire, which cost about £10m in 2005. The arable and dairy unit was bought with vacant possession but subsequently let to the Co-op under an FBT.

‘Long-term development potential’

About 1400 acres of the Crown’s Ewerby Estate near Sleaford, Lincolnshire, have just been sold for over the £5.5m guide. This followed the sale of about 2000 acres of the estate in 2005 for £4.5m.

Mr Harper said the total rent roll from the Tabley Estate was about £0.5m, giving a yield of about 1.5%. He said the estate had some long-term development potential – it is near the motorway services at Knutsford – but there were no plans to split it up.

“That’s not what we’re about. We plan to invest in the estate and individual businesses where diversification is a sound prospect,” he said.

‘Rare opportunity’

Diana Hampson, director of estates at Manchester University, said: “We believe that the sale to such an experienced and major rural land owner offers the best opportunity to secure the long-term future and integrity of the estate.”

Being able to buy such a large and varied portfolio of properties was a rare opportunity, said Mr Harper. However, he said the Crown had been offered two even larger estates off market prior to the Tabley purchase.

“We’re not stopping, we’re looking to acquire more of the right type of investment. We’ll be making some disposals but overall we’ll be looking to grow the estate.”