Monday, 28 October 2013

Producing Renewable Energy From Waste

Interest in Anaerobic Digestion (AD) as a means of producing renewable energy from waste – usually methane, which can either be burnt to generate electricity or put directly in to the grid as gas – has increased.

This is exemplified locally by the new AD plant which has been set up by local cheese producers, Wyke Farms near Bruton. This has represented a huge investment in both time and money. The facility has cost £4m and has taken five years to plan and construct. It consists of three 4,600 cubic metre digester vessels which digest cow slurry, pig slurry, rape straw and “whey permeate” from the cheese making facility. The German technology is capable of converting 75,000 tonnes of biodegradable waste each year.

Richard Clothier, who is the managing director and third generation family member at Wyke Farms, said: “We aim to operate our business in a way that has minimal impact on the Somerset environment, and create a truly symbiotic relationship with the countryside.

“We’re committed to energy efficiency and we’re proud to be one of the first national food brands to be self-sufficient.

“Sustainability and environmental issues are increasing in importance to each and every consumer in the UK and green energy makes both emotional and practical sense.”

Mr Clothier said the plant “simply creates a cycle - we can now take the cow waste, which has inherently been a problem, and turn it into pure, clean, energy to drive all our own needs and more. This, in turn, leaves a natural fertiliser that we can plough back into the land to invest in the future health and wellbeing of our cattle – and so the cycle starts again.”

Clearly the Clothier family believe in the importance of sustainability and have realised that this is becoming of increasing importance to us all, hence their major investment, however not all farmers have been prepared or are able to take this “leap of faith”.

The potential for the use of on-farm AD has been recognised for some years but in general it is only a few large plants which have been set up. As a consequence DEFRA has recently announced it has established an “On-Farm AD Fund” to reduce financial barriers to the development of small scale on-farm anaerobic digesters in England. The Fund is to be administered by the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) which itself was established as an independent not-for-profit company limited by guarantee in 2000.

It is believed the fund will provide:

• Grants of up to £10,000 to prepare business plans and feasibility studies for AD units.

• Loans of up to £400,000 (or a maximum of 50% of the cost) for constructing an AD unit.

To qualify for access to the fund it is believed various conditions will be applied which include:

• The farm must “have access to manures and slurries” – but it is not clear to what extent these will have to be used in the AD plant.<br />
• The maximum size of the AD unit will be 250kW.

• A business plan must have been prepared before a loan can be applied for.

• Loans will be available from early 2014, although no exact date has been given.

• No details about the term of the loan or interest rates has yet been released.

At this stage it is not clear how much money will be available or how useful this fund may be but if anyone should have any initial enquires they should contact local Renewable Energy expert Thomas Ireland via email. 

James Stephen MRICS FAAV
Rural Practice Chartered Surveyor, Wells

T: 01749 683381

Monday, 21 October 2013

Wells Food Festival

The inaugural Wells Food Festival certainly brought a buzz to Wells last Sunday with the market place packed with stalls and visitors tasting and purchasing the various artisan foods on offer. But of particular interest to me was the debate which was held at the Bishop’s Barn entitled “Milk Matters” and if the turnout is anything to go by the general consensus is that it does.

Over 100 people packed in to the Barn to listen to the debate which was preceded by a blind tasting of 6 different samples of milk which varied from UHT and pasteurised supermarket milk to unpasteurised Guernsey milk. Everyone had an opportunity to taste and vote for their favourite milk and in the end it was the pasteurised Jersey milk from Ivy House Farm, Beckington near Frome which was voted the audience’s favourite. This was fitting because Geoff Bowles of Ivy House Farm, stood in at the last minute for one of the panellists who was unable to attend the debate.

The debate itself was interesting, chaired by environmentalist Chris Banes with dairy farming panellists, in addition to Geoff Bowles, including Ruth Kimber from Charlton Musgrove, David Cotton from West Bradley, Judith Freene from Pilton and Steve Hook from Sussex.

Each panellist told the audience about their experiences in dairy farming including the opportunities and challenges they face in their own businesses. David Cotton, a 4th generation dairy farmer explained about milk production from the perspective of a mainstream dairy farmer, where he regards himself as the primary producer, selling his milk to a processor who will then process the milk to bring it to the market, whether that be liquid milk, butter, cream or cheese.

Ruth Kimber, similarly sells most of their milk to Wyke Farms who turn it in to farmhouse cheese, while the other panellists explained how they have taken the processing and marketing of their milk in to their own hands so as to take advantage of niche markets, bringing them closer to the customer and thereby gaining premium prices for their milk products.

Judith Freene of Brown Cow Organics explained how she moved in to yoghurt production in response to the slump in organic milk price some years ago, which alongside their other products has proved a great success. Geoff Bowles also explained his story of how, when his farm was cut in half by a new road in 1983, his family decided to process their own milk in order to survive, initially driving to London to sell milk in premium outlets and subsequently supplying customers direct and via a wide range of small retail outlets.

Similarly Steve Hook, who is featured in a documentary film about his farm, called the Moo Man, explained how he decided to sell raw, unpasteurised organic milk to the public and how he has tapped in to a niche market where he is able to command a price of up to £2/pint, as compared to the lowest price I could find on the Tesco website which was 25p/pint.

This perhaps explains the dilemma many dairy farmers find themselves in; they either have to find a niche market which usually involves processing their own milk and selling their product direct to the customer or through outlets where they can achieve a premium price or, as in the case of David Cotton and the vast majority of dairy farmers, they have to become as efficient as they possibly can to survive the highly competitive retail market dominated by the supermarkets.

Herein lies the crux of the problem facing many dairy farmers; do they go niche or remain primary producers of a commodity. Either way it is hard work, often requiring significant investment with loans which will have to be paid off by the next generation. This is why many dairy farmers, especially those without successors, continue to leave the industry; there are currently less than 15,000 left in the UK, a number which has halved over the last 15 years.

Accordingly, what came over very clearly to me was that there is one concern which cuts across niche and commodity producers alike and that is the need to attract the next generation in to dairy farming, whether that be to take on the family farm or to work for others as a herdsmen or other skilled workers. But in all instances the financial viability of the dairy business is the key in order to be able to pay such staff a competitive wage to enable them to live in the countryside which is valued by so many and which has been shaped by dairy farmers over the centuries.

James Stephen MRICS FAAV
Rural Practice Chartered Surveyor, Wells

T: 01749 683381

Monday, 14 October 2013

Carter Jonas enters The ESTAS Awards 2014

Our Residential Letting branches have entered the Estate & Letting Agent Awards. The scheme recognises the best agents based on research conducted through Landlords around the UK. The awards, known as the ESTAS measures the quality of customer service provided by agents through the rental process.

I am very pro these awards as they give our Clients the opportunity to provide feedback to us.

Phil Spencer, TV Property Expert says “I think it says a great deal about company who’s prepared to stand up and announce to customers and competitors that they believe in providing the best possible service and they’re happy to prove it.

These awards help agencies to focus on customer service levels and that’s why so many sign up each year” “Taking part in the ESTAS sets agents apart from their competitors. It sends a clear message that they are passionate about customer service, prepared to go that extra mile for their clients and keen to listen to feedback”.

Lisa Simon, Partner
Head of Residential Lettings, Mayfair
T: 020 7493 0676

400ha of Productive Farmland Destroyed

Following the recent launch of a relief fund to help raise money to fund the dredging of rivers on the Somerset Levels to help prevent a repeat of the 2012 flooding, many farmers are furious about the destruction of more than 400ha of productive farmland near Bridgwater.

The land has been acquired by the Environment Agency (EA) in a bid to create a huge new expanse of salt marsh and associated wetland habitat which will be managed by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust. It is believed this project has cost in the order of £20m and it is this and the fact good quality farmland has been destroyed which is getting farmers angry.

The land is located on the Steart Peninsula, at the mouth of the River Parrett where it enters Bridgwater Bay. Much engineering work has taken place over the last 18 months or so in order to transform it from an area of farmland to an area of low lying lagoons and creeks. Once the sea wall is breached to allow flooding at high tide, it is anticipated that over a period of time the land will develop in to a huge new area of salt marsh.

"The EA claims it doesn't have the money to spend on river maintenance, and yet farmers on the Somerset Levels pay levies for that maintenance," said James Small, Somerset NFU chairman. "At the same time, they see vast sums being spent on destroying farmland for habitat creation at Steart.

"The EA has a not-inconsiderable budget, and one of its mission statements is to protect the natural and working environment," he added. "It all comes down to priorities, and if the government was serious about protecting farmland and businesses it would just take a tweak in policy to reflect what people really want on the ground."

However, the EA have explained that the Steart project is being delivered to meet the government’s responsibilities under the EU Habitats Directive and failure to create such new habitat to offset the loss from rising sea levels would trigger large fines by the EU. "Some people don't like the project, but we have a legal obligation to create this new habitat," he said.

So it seems it is EU law and the government’s need to comply with it that is creating paradoxical situation where the EA does not have enough money to carry out routine dredging of rivers on the Somerset levels and yet within 10 miles the same organisation is spending around £20m to flood otherwise productive farmland. All I can say is that I think farmers affected by flooding on the levels will find this situation extremely difficult to understand.

James Stephen MRICS FAAV
Rural Practice Chartered Surveyor, Wells

T: 01749 683381

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

The 2013 Dairy Show

Last week the eyes of the UK’s dairy industry were focused on the Bath and West Showground where the 2013 Dairy Show was held on 2nd October. This year the show was sponsored by Micron Bio Systems and Pearce Seeds Ltd whose support was much appreciated by all because it turned out to be yet another excellent event.

I have been attending the Dairy Show for over 20 years and I have to say it has become a highlight in my calendar because it consistently attracts high quality livestock entries and visitors from across the country who, this year were able to view over 310 trade exhibitors displaying all manner of products and services.

This year the show attracted over 6,600 visitors and because the vast majority of these are either committed dairy farmers or people closely involved in the industry, it also attracts a wide variety of quality exhibitors all keen to be involved in the long term future of the dairy industry.

I suppose the most significant feature I noticed this year was the number of dairy farmers who are now seriously considering installing robotic milking machines. Lely, one of the robotic milking machine manufacturers certainly had a significant presence at the show.

Having discussed this with a number of farmers who came to our stand it seems that for smaller family farms in particular the use of robotic milking machines is a real prospect. It saves the cost of expensive labour and frees up time for the farmer to do other things rather than standing in the milking parlour for 6 hours or more a day.

The same does not necessarily seem to be the case for larger units where the farmer/owner is probably not physically milking the cows himself anyway, but what is clear is that technology in the dairy industry is becoming ever more important and those who do not embrace it in one form or another are likely to struggle in the long term. As with all industries one cannot let one’s business stand still for a moment but the problem facing many is that investment costs money and it seems for some that the profits are not there to allow for this.

This was highlighted by a press release from Old Mill Accountants whose head office is in Wells. They explained that figures from their client base showed that the average dairy farmer lost over 1p/litre last year. However, what I think is very telling is that their best dairy clients were producing milk for an incredible 12.65p/litre less than the worst. Herein lies a tale in that it seems to me some farmers have been able to control costs and it is the close control of costs, not just the headline milk price which defines the difference between success and failure in the dairy industry.

But what attracts many to the event is simply to see the best livestock on show and this year saw the closest ever competition with a Holstein and Ayrshire cow being tied equal for the coveted Supreme Champion. They were finally separated by bringing in an additional judge who awarded the title to the nine year old Ayrshire Sandyford Fable, owned by ED Tomlinson & Son of Loughborough and Reserve Champion went to the Holstein Moorshard Lennon Rosa, owned by RK & FG Miller & Sons of Bridgwater.

So all in all it was another excellent day for all who attended and Show Manager Alan Lyons said "It was a great show, with large volumes of visitors flowing through the gate. The quality and increase of both the trade stands and the cattle were extremely high which bodes well for the future of this popular show in the agricultural year."

James Stephen MRICS FAAV
Rural Practice Chartered Surveyor, Wells

T: 01749 683381

Monday, 7 October 2013

Update on the CB1 Development

‘Change is usually sad, but it is dangerous to live too much in the past, and to overstate the past at the expense of the future.’ Graham Dawbarn, architect (1893-1976).

By way of a counterpoint to criticism of new buildings in Cambridge, Will Mooney, Carter Jonas partner and head of its commercial agency and professional services in the eastern region, shakes his pom-poms to cheerlead the new.

The quote, courtesy of The Twentieth Century Society website (, was made in 1956 by the architect in response to opposition to redevelopment plans for Imperial College which meant the demolition of the Victorian Institute in South Kensington.

Also on the Society’s website is an authored piece which describes the New Museums Site on Pembroke Street in Cambridge as “….Cambridge’s most elating piece of Brutalism.” Brutalism is a positive reference in this context and refers to a style of post-1945 architecture The New Museums Site was built between 1966 and 1974 and, in the University’s current plans for redeveloping this campus, it has engaged a heritage planning consultant.

If you’ve been living or working in Cambridge for as long as I have, you might still refer to various locations in the city which have been modernised by their old, pre-development names. If not all the time, then it’s often useful explaining the locations to fellow, old Cantabrigians who are not so involved in the property and development scene in the city. Christ’s Lane as Bradwell’s Court and the Cambridge Leisure Park as the Cattle Market.

It’s a decade since the old cattle market site was redeveloped as Cambridge Leisure Park. It’s almost unforgivable for us property people to make these venial vocabulary slips. Especially if we’ve been involved in the deals like I was in securing the Leisure Park for Travelodge. Ten years on and I’ve been involved in the deal which has seen another Travelodge open this past summer as part of the Eastern Gateway redevelopment of the city.

While people might not like the specific architectural design of the buildings themselves in the locations I’ve referenced here, it would be a strange view indeed, if people preferred to retain the dilapidated buildings or derelict sites of these locations before their redevelopment.

The cb1 development will ensure the city’s railway station will no longer be the disappointment it must have been to many on first arrival. It will be a fitting complement to the impressive King’s Cross/St Pancras redevelopment from where many visitors will have boarded the train to Cambridge.

The planning application’s lodged for a second railway station to the north of the city and not before time if you’re arriving in Cambridge by train and expecting to do business at its influential science and business parks.

And it’s commerce which is driving these new developments. It’s the same commercial forces which have fostered economic prosperity in the city at a time of recession.

A recently published book called “Hideous Cambridge: a city mutilated” sees its author and city resident, David Jones take a light-hearted but critical swipe at what he sees as the city’s ugliest buildings - which are also some of its newest.

This is some of the very property offering in the city – whether that’s commercial or residential – which struggles to keep pace with demand so the developers must be doing something right. It’s in not developers’ commercial interest to build something nobody wants to live or work in.

To my mind, Cambridge is, at last, beginning to look like the modern city it is. Change can be sad and, in this city, change certainly doesn’t go unchallenged.

In any location, the changes in skyline and at street level brought about by new buildings and development are of their time now as much as these things always are. I am sure The Twenty First Century Society will agree.

Will Mooney MRICS

Commercial, Cambridge

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

It's Been Hot Town Summer in The City

There was no summer slouching on the development front in Cambridge.

In fact, the locations of many of the buildings are contributing to creating new frontiers in the city’s expansion or, at least, new gateways.

The remodelling of the city’s Newmarket Road spine is forging ahead with the new 219-bed Travelodge opened last month (August) as part of the vision for the Eastern Gateway and work on the new Premier Inn is underway here too. The Travelodge is financed and owned by the Charities Property Fund – whose investor base includes substantial representation by the Cambridge colleges - and, on the occasion of the opening, the Fund referenced the value of such a freehold interest in a ‘development constrained centre such as Cambridge’.

The early part of the summer saw the ceremonial ground-breaking at another new frontier in the city with work-on site well underway on Phase 1 of North West Cambridge. This £1 billion development by the University of Cambridge will eventually see a 150 hectare mixed-use development on land around the Huntingdon Road and Madingley Road routes.

The University also moved forward on its preparation of proposals for the redevelopment of its New Museums Site campus on Pembroke Street in the heart of the city.

Also in the historic core of the city, on Trumpington Street, The Cambridge Judge Business School – previously known as the Judge Institute of Management Studies – appointed a project team to advise on proposals for its £30 million expansion project.

As the summer really hotted-up in July, the planning application was submitted for the city’s second railway station. Known as Cambridge Science Park Railway Station, the transport interchange will form an integral part of the redevelopment of Cambridge’s northern fringe which is envisaged will see the creation of new, high quality B1 commercial space complementing the existing business and science park locations in this part of the city.

And speaking of this part of the city, July also saw the announcement of outline planning permission being granted for three plots of Phase VI at the Cambridge Science Park which, in total, will add 13,800 sq m of brand new office and research & development space in this internationally renowned location.

Over at Cambridge’s first railway station, developer Brookgate is working to bring forward one of the next phases of CB1: numbers 50 & 60 Station Road. Spread over eight floors, 50 Station Road will give 62, 840 sq ft and 60 Station Road will be a significant 68, 254 sq ft of much-needed, Grade A accommodation in the centre of this world-class city.

News recently of AstraZeneca increasing its requirement at the Cambridge Biomedical Campus on the Addenbrooke’s site to 800,000 sq ft from the earlier figure of 650,000 sq ft.

Institutional investors, financiers and developers are doing what they can to maximise the property potential in the city’s ‘development constrained centre’ and its outer fringes.

Hot town summer in the city, indeed. Despite the past summer’s heat, it’s been alright for those of us with development and property interests here.

Will Mooney MRICS

Commercial, Cambridge