Hankham is a small village in East Sussex, just north of the A27, and no distance at all from both Eastbourne and Pevensey. When the Normans landed (just a few miles away, in Pevensey Bay) almost a thousand years ago, the village was held personally by King Edward, and after the conquest it was granted to Count Robert of Mortain – and was worth just four shillings. Nowadays the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty sits to the north, and the South Downs National Park to the west; it is very attractive, very lush countryside.

This is where you can find the Peelings Manor Estate, which is managed for its trustees and beneficiaries by Batcheller Monkhouse. The Estate is smaller than some other estates handled by the firm, but it is a fascinating study in how estates both survive and develop.

Peelings comprised a Grade II Listed manor, a range of agricultural buildings with surrounding land, and residential property when it was acquired by the late Kenneth Banner in the Fifties. He died in 1995 and the Estate passed to the trustees.

The first exercise in generating an income from the Estate was the conversion of redundant agricultural buildings into commercial units in the late nineties. These were designed to be studios and workshops for artists and crafts workers. There are currently eight creative tenants, including woodworkers, a sculptor, and a potter – who has a retail shop as well as a workshop.

Batcheller Monkhouse were appointed as Managing Agents to the Estate in March 2010. Since then there have been several key changes, some bigger than others. Following the death of Kenneth Banner’s widow the manor was let on the open market, achieving a very satisfactory income for the owners and much needed boost to the economics of the Estate. In 2012 a cottage came back in hand, and the firm advised that it was large enough to split into two residences, with one half being occupied by one of the beneficiaries of the Estate, and the other let on the open market – and again a good rental was achieved. Part of Batcheller Monkhouse’s brief had been to achieve a balance between generating income and accommodating the requirements of the beneficiaries.

Peelings Manor Estate comprised a Grade II listed manor, a range of agricultural buildings with surrounding land, and residential property when it was acquired by the late Ken Banner in the Fifties.

The heart of the Estate surrounds the main house. The Estate had however retained some strategic land to the south of the new A27 near Stone Cross which clipped the edge of the Estate in the 1980s. The aspiration had always been that this might be suitable for residential development at a later date. The advice was to seek allocation and planning approval for new homes to be built on this land as soon as the Local Authority started to prepare its housing strategy.

That process began two years ago and a key step Batcheller Monkhouse achieved was to bring a number of adjoining landowners together to form a viable joint venture proposal. This was to be presented to the Wealden District Council planning department as a single proposal, which made things much simpler for everyone involved; one larger scheme rather than five smaller ones. The entire scheme came to 30 acres in total, making the Peelings Manor Estate the largest single partner.

Rather than simply sell an Option agreement it was evident from the status of the Wealden Local Plan that there was an opportunity to make a pre-emptive strike. Whilst still pursuing formal allocation the owners combined to appoint their own team of Managing Agents to prepare and submit a formal planning application. Speed was of the essence and retaining control key to ensuring the owners secured maximum value.

Within 10 months of forming the Joint Venture outline, planning permission was secured for a scheme of 276 new homes; a stunning successful outcome achieved in record time. With the consent in place, Batcheller Monkhouse was retained to take the scheme to the market and the site was recently sold to one of this country’s major house-builders.

The impact for all the owners is a sudden and much needed injection of capital. The next step was to decide how best to re-invest the profits into the Estate, having regard to the requirements of the beneficiaries and the need to secure the longterm viability of the Estate. After a period of over twenty years during which resources allowed only limited repairs and maintenance, a long overdue programme of repairs and improvements can now be undertaken across all the Estate’s buildings.

The unique quality of the traditional brick and flint built Sussex farm buildings can be preserved with the opportunity to develop more of the Estate’s redundant agricultural buildings bringing these historic buildings back into productive use, thus improving capital values as well as creating additional income. The firm is looking closely at the potential of a large and characterful barn, with a number of possible uses. One being explored is a weddings and community events venue – which would create employment in the area, and be a source of income for a wide range of local suppliers, as well as being a dynamic new business.

Such a development introduces an entirely new income stream, so that the Estate’s profitability is not tied to one or two, possibly unreliable, sources of revenue. There might also be opportunities to buy nearby agricultural land, which would be advantageous in terms of roll-over tax relief.

The situation of the Peelings Manor Estate is a good example of the need to both manage the smaller detail, look out for longer term strategic gains at the same time and then react fast when the opportunity presents itself.

Smaller estates such as this one face different challenges from larger ones, and professional advisors such as ourselves have to look at a broad range of options in advising owners, as well as keeping a close eye on national trends and demands so that opportunities can be seized upon. The country Estate might sound like an old-fashioned concept to some, but landownership can certainly still be a valid and profitable use of capital, and can provide remunerative – and indeed creative and enjoyable – business opportunities.