2 February 2001


Big estates as well as mainstream farmers are joining the

barn conversion club. Wendy Owen went to Escrick Park,

Yorks to see a good example of large-scale development

FARM building conversion on a grand scale has been carried out on 3200ha (8000 acre) Escrick Park estate, near York, which now houses 29 office and light industrial units on six former farmsteads. Estate owner/manager Charles Forbes Adam is currently working on the next phase, which will be completed by June 2001.

His efforts have so far won him the CLAs northern region Farm Buildings Conservation award and its plaque for Excellence of Conversion, as well as the national Building Conservation award from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.

The £1.4m development began in 1996, when the district qualified for ERDF (European Regional Development Funding). The estate had serious cash flow problems at that time and as tenants left or ceased farming, Mr Forbes Adam took the redundant buildings back for development. Last year Escrick Park ceased farming in-hand and has let 800ha (2000 acres) to a farming syndicate, focusing instead on rentals, the commercial shoot and income from the cross-country riding course.

From the outset the CROW (Creating Rural Opportunities for Work) project employed a qualified architect as in-house manager. To cut costs and retain control and flexibility, the estate purchased its own materials and took on small local firms and craftsmen for each stage of the work.

"Doing it this way this has taken a lot more of my time and increased the risk. I didnt have the advantage of using an experienced building company and I couldnt fall back on their insurance policy if anything went wrong," says Mr Forbes Adam.

Grant aid

While the project could not have gone ahead without grant aid, the conditions it set caused some problems, he says.

"The time limit set by the grant authority meant there was a rush to procure tenants because of financial penalties if the buildings were not finished on time. Without the grant I could have marketed the buildings until tenants were found and then started building, which would have taken the pressure off a little."

"I think it is important to do the marketing yourself. If its your business, you will try harder. Where the buildings were close to a road we put up a trailer board and put the details on our website. We also offered an introductory commission to any commercial agents who found tenants for us and undercut city rents by about 10-15%.

"The rent discount was the main attraction for new tenants but once they had moved here, people found that working in the countryside gives them lots of free parking, an easier journey to work and a more attractive and safer environment."

He also feels that proximity to urban areas is not as important as being close to a good transport network. The estate is 20 minutes drive from the M62 motorway and the offices are sited 6-9 miles from the centre of York.

The choice between building office space or workshops depends on the shapes and sizes of existing structures, which can limit the design, he says.

"Office space is more lucrative, with rents at about £9-10/sq ft per annum in this area, whereas workshops are only slightly less expensive to create and rents are much lower at £3-4/sq ft.

"If you can find tenants early enough, they can have an input into the development, which is useful. The upgrade to provide individual services like electricity and water is very expensive, especially as each unit has to have its own meter.

Smaller businesses

"My advice is to wait until clients are found before dividing a building up into units, if at all possible. Ideally, three smaller businesses are better than one large one because it spreads the risk."

Mr Forbes Adam has some advice to any farmer thinking of converting a farm building.

"Obviously there are some costs before you can apply for a grant but these can be kept down by doing a lot of the work yourself. The minimum outlay would be about £1000 to prepare for grant application and that would include fees for a structural engineer and a planning consultant," he says.

Above: Farm buildings after conversion to light industrial use. Below: Buildings due for conversion.

Charles Forbes Adam with

some of the office units

converted from farm



&#8226 3200ha (8000 acres), 18 agricultural holdings.

&#8226 Traditional, unlisted farm buildings.

&#8226 Conversion of 45,000sq ft to rented offices and workshops.

&#8226 Unit sizes range from 800-4000sq ft.

&#8226 Let on a minimum six-year lease.

&#8226 Further plans for development.

&#8226 Estate ceased farming in-hand last year (2000).

&#8226 Market research essential.

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