Whole estate plans are not statutory planning documents and landowners are not required to produce them. But for this West Sussex estate creating a whole estate plan has been core to recent success. Isobel Davidson reports
Richard and Kirsty Goring, owners (together with Harry and Pip Goring) of the Wiston Estate in West Sussex, feel strongly that the estate and its land are gifts to be looked after for the community and for the future. This sense of responsibility and stewardship forms the basis for how they manage and invest in the estate, and for the vision for its future they have now set out in a whole estate plan.
Richard explains: “Understanding our story and the cost of protecting heritage assets has influenced each and every aspiration, commitment and programme of works that the whole estate plan articulates. The plan ultimately brings these investments together into our roadmap to 2030.”
Of Wiston Estate’s 6,100 acres, around 70% is farmland and 20% forestry (of which 40% is ancient woodland). The estate includes a winery launched in 2008, 11 farms (nine in agri-environment schemes) and 22 businesses as well as four Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINC) and one Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). There are 38 listed buildings, including Grade I Wiston House, and 13 scheduled ancient monuments.
Vision for the future
The plan looks at the holding in its entirety, setting out a vision and action plan from 2017 to 2030. It explores the estate’s heritage, assets, its place within the community and the eco system, as well as the challenges it faces, visions for the future, commitments to the community and action plans for specific investments.
Much of the estate sits within South Downs National Park, a relationship that not only frames the content of the whole estate plan but also, in part, drives its very purpose. As Richard explains: “By working closely with the national park authority in the plan’s development, and crucially securing the authority’s endorsement of the plan, we have created a framework for a constructive relationship between Wiston and the authority for many years to come.”
By benefitting from a greater understanding of the context and narrative behind planning applications, the park authority is able to view a single application within the perspective of the whole plan and understand more about the commercial realities of running an estate. Both Wiston Estate and South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA) have welcomed the potential for a simpler, swifter planning process.
While the opportunity to plan for the future together with the national park was an important reason to invest in the whole estate plan, it was not the only reason for Richard and Kirsty Goring. Richard says: “Creating the holistic plan brings together considerations about the commercial sustainability of the estate with the future for tenant farms, local communities, heritage, eco-systems and visitors. It is helping us to make the best decisions on investing in the estate for the longer term in a fast-changing world, see day-to-day decisions in the longer-term context and provide clarity between generations by defining the aims and ambitions of managing the estate.”
Richard points out that while the vision will be different for every estate, they are working towards a specific aspiration that by 2030 the Wiston Estate will be:
- A place for people: with housing and facilities that meet the needs of those of all ages and backgrounds
- A place for nature: where careful stewardship enables and enhances networks of habitat set within valued landscape and heritage
- A place for productivity, craftsmanship and business: where people can generate the income required to support a good quality of life for themselves and their families
- A place without waste: where everything matters and the potential of people, the land and our built environment is optimised
- A place for learning and exploration: where people benefit from time to think, learn from each other and the (built and natural) world around them
No mean feat
The actual development of the plan was not without its challenges. The process took 18 months from its start to receiving endorsement from the SDNPA. Richard explains: “It involved a significant survey to define local housing and employment needs and consultation with local stakeholders, as well as a very significant investment of time alongside the usual day-to-day management of the estate.”
Richard received support from Rural Solutions, an independent consultancy specialising in helping rural landowners maximise the potential of their land and assets. This support helped provide structure and bring coherence to what can be a complex process.
One year on from its endorsement by the SDNPA, the Goring family’s investment in the whole estate plan is already showing its worth.
The ‘action plan’ detailed in the whole estate plan includes a programme of investment to help secure the viable future use and maintenance of redundant barns across the estate. The creation of the whole estate plan has helped secure the SDNPA’s endorsement of the principle and programme for giving the redundant barns a future use and to build new farm buildings suitable for modern agriculture. This project is now underway. The plan also demonstrated why the estate needs to create value elsewhere in order to fund repairs to the historic barns and other assets. The real test for the plan will be its ability to enable these value adding permissions and raise the capital to invest in the sustainable future of these historic assets.
The value has been clear for the SDNPA too. Since endorsing the Wiston plan, it has worked with landowners within the park to develop and endorse three more whole estate plans.
In addition, using the completed plan Richard has been able to develop detailed business and cashflow plans to sit alongside the whole estate plan. He says: “The next step, from a management perspective, is to grow the team with the skills needed to deliver the individual programmes and the overall ambitions.”
As well as the programme to secure the future use and maintenance of the redundant barns, the plan includes programmes to invest in the creation of a rural business park anchored by the winery, as well as housing, creating a new retreat centre using a listed barn, enhancing access by connecting existing rights of way, developing a water quality strategy and creating an environment bank.
Investing in the whole estate plan has created an invaluable framework for Wiston Estate through to 2030, designed to drive the success and sustainability of this historic estate without limiting the possibilities for the future.
Richard’s top tips
- Identify a timeframe – the Wiston whole estate plan needed to look far enough ahead to achieve its aims, while still leaving flexibility for future generations to make their own decisions
- Be open to feedback – the Wiston whole estate plan benefitted from good ideas both from members of the Goring family and from local stakeholders who brought a valuable external perspective
- Ask for external practical help – asking a good professional adviser to help enabled Richard to remain disciplined in keeping to the project timescales and prevented unnecessary delays
- 4,260 acres of the 6,100 acre modern diversified estate sits within the South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA)
- From concept to approval, the Wiston whole estate plan took 18 months to create
- The Wiston whole estate plan was endorsed by the SDNPA in July 2017
- The Wiston whole estate plan was the first to be approved by SDNPA – as of June 2018, four have now been approved
Wiston Estate www.wistonestate.com
South Downs National Park Authority www.southdowns.gov.uk