17 July 1998

Crown Estate sees profits rise over year

THE Crown Estate enjoyed a 10% rise in profits from its landholdings in the last financial year, despite the economic crisis affecting most of the farming industry.

But, according to agricultural estate manager, Chris Bourchier, the recession is now starting to bite and a repeat performance is not expected for the current trading period.

With a portfolio of over 120,000ha (296,500 acres) let through 460 agricultural tenancies, the Crown Estate is one of the countrys leading landowners. In the year to March 31, revenue from this source rose from £14.6m to £16m.

Defending the increase, Mr Bourchier said rent rises agreed in 1997/98 were still in line with inflation. They also reflected a considerable level of investment by the Estate in grain storage, dairy facilities and irrigation equipment, (totalling £2.6m), as well as a growing number of non-agricultural enterprises on many of the farms concerned.

But, with tenants under real pressure, Crown Estate managers were having to become increasingly selective in deciding which rents to review and which to roll over at existing levels. There were also some cases where rent reductions were being considered.

The pressure on farm incomes had also led the Estate to suspendplans, announced last year, to encourage new entrants into the industry.

"We would be doing no one any favours harnessing them to the task of making money in the current economic environment," said Mr Bourchier.

* Despite increased revenue and the acquisition of another 345ha (752 acres), the actual value of the agricultural estate slipped 2.4% to £280m. The Crown Estate as a whole, including its massive urban portfolio, made a net surplus of £113m, all of which is paid to the Inland Revenue.