Defra: a challenging brief

16 July, 2014

The Conversation asked me to write an appreciation of Owen Paterson’s tenure as Secretary of State for the Environment. It was published last night under the title, Badgers may cheer Owen Paterson’s exit from Defra, but not everyone feels the same

A white, middle-aged, country man who nevertheless forgot to take his wellies to a flood zone a stone’s throw from one of his infamous badger cull areas, now finds himself culled. Is this how we should remember the Rt Hon Owen Paterson MP, Secretary of State for the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, September 2012-July 2014?

Paterson’s appointment to Defra was popular with farmers and landowners because he was seen as one of their own: MP for that most rural of constituencies North Shropshire, and a leading figure in the European tannery trade. Defra was badly in need of a safe pair of hands after Caroline Spelman’s disastrous attempt to privatise the Forestry Commission. Moving across from the Northern Ireland brief, Paterson was to prove an able choice in this regard.

That is not to say the Defra tractor ploughed a steady course during his tenure. Read the rest of this entry »

Farmers’ Awareness of Wildlife Conservation Value – England and Wales

14 July, 2014

Farmers: please can you help a postgraduate student at Birmingham City University (BCU) with this survey?  This also forms part of the wider research undertaken by Professor Alister Scott at BCU.  The researchers say:

“This short survey aims to investigate the Farmers’ Awareness of wildlife conservation values in England and Wales. It forms part of research by Birmingham School of the Built Environment Birmingham City into aspects of Environmental Sustainability

“We would like to find out more about your ideas and attitudes towards the conservation value of your farm. The information gathered in this survey will be used for research purposes, to help us provide much needed intelligence on how farmers feel nature conservation activities can be supported. None of the questions are compulsory, and your responses will remain anonymous.”

Alistair has stressed that it’s not necessary to answer every question if that would take too long as all and any responses will be useful.

The survey itself can be downloaded here:

BCU Farmer Survey

Thank you.

Adding Value to Land: 10 things to think about

19 June, 2014

Presentation from the RICS National Rural Conference held on 19 June 2014 at the Royal Agricultural University, Cirencester.  Ten ideas which will be important to future success in land management.


Stamp Duty Land Tax and Commercial Forestry

3 June, 2014

A curious question was posed at last week’s RICS Rural Web class on Forestry Taxation and Valuation.  Can Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) on the purchase of commercial forestry be reduced by removing the value of the trees from the overall purchase price?  Further investigation was required.

It seems that the Birmingham Stamp Office has Read the rest of this entry »

26 May, 2014

One wood worth £70,000 but potentially five different Inheritance Tax bills ranging from nil to £28,000. Capital Gains Tax with potential bills on disposal ranging from less than £5,000 to more than £11,000.  This Wednesday’s web class will explain how to keep the tax bill down.  It will also look at the wider benefits that might be available to an estate that keeps its woods in good order.  RICS Web classes are not restricted to RICS members.  They provide a very cost-effective way to make sure you are up to date from the convenience of your own computer, and because they are ‘live’ you have all the benefits of being able to ask questions, and take part in online discussions.  This class in particular is highly relevant to anybody with an interest in private woodland ownership and management.

Details here: 

Practical points for Trusts

14 May, 2014

The inspiring Rhug estate in North Wales was the setting for our first Trustee Training Day yesterday.   It is now almost axiomatic that new company directors must go through some induction training so that they fully understand their role and responsibility, similarly with trustees or directors of charities.  So why not trustees of private trusts?  Their role is just as important, just as demanding and even more exposed to liability.  Yesterday we ran a pilot course for a small group of landed estate trustees and trust advisers.  We combined classroom work with discussion and a short visit to the home farm at Rhug.

It was a great opportunity to share experience of how different trusts actually work, and some of the challenges faced by trustees.  For example the frequency of trustee meetings varied between virtually never and four formal meetings a year, with two being the norm for many trusts.  A growing point of concern however, Read the rest of this entry »

Budget 2014: Rural points

19 March, 2014

Nothing very obvious grabs the rural headlines in today’s budget other than the extension of CGT rollover relief to the new Basic Farm Payments.  This measure is backdated to 20 December 2013, the date the new payment entitlements were introduced.

The single most significant measure for most rural businesses will be the increase and extension of the Annual Investment Allowance.  Currently £250,000 a year this was due to revert to its former rate of £25,000 after December.  In a very welcome extension it is to be increased to £500,000 almost immediately (from April), and to be extended to 31 December 2015.  Complications which arise from straddling account year ends aside, this is most welcome for any farmer with serious investment plans in the next year or two.  The government reckons this will ‘cost’ £85 million in 2014-15 rising to £1,270 million in 2016/17.  However there will be a benefit to government from 2017-18 of £445 million over two years as annual writing down allowances are proportionately reduced.

The property world will also be interested in the extension of the special taxes which now apply to dwellings owned by ‘non-natural persons’ – generally meaning valuable London property held by companies, latterly to avoid SDLT on sales and transfers.  The threshold for 15% SDLT is reduced to £500,000 from £2 million immediately – although there are savings for those unfortunates who have exchanged contracts but not yet completed.  The threshold for ‘ATED’ – Annual Tax on Enveloped Dwellings – will also start to fall from 2015, to £1 million in the first year incurring an annual ATED charge of £7,000 and the following year to £500,000, leading to an annual ATED charge of £3,500.

Environmentalists will want to study the changes to the Carbon Price Floor.  The Carbon Price Support rate has been reduced to £18/tonne through to 2020.  It had been planned to raise it to £30 per tonne in 2009 prices by then.  However the EU Energy Trading Scheme has not worked well, and continuation at the current floor rate was seen as a threat to the competitiveness of the electricity generating industry.  This should take some pressure off electricity bills in the next few years (although marginally so in most cases).

Other more detailed points which may be relevant in the rural economy and to property include: Read the rest of this entry »


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