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The Courier and Advertiser, Friday, June 1, 2001
Tenants snap up Panmure Farms
PANMURE ESTATE, with its roots stretching back into the 12th century, no longer exists.
Only eight months ago it was called "one of the great British estates," but its 14,000 acres have now effectively been broken up into many smaller properties. It was expected that when Angus Estates bought the estate from the insurance group CGNU a few of the 50 tenanted farms would be sold to their occupiers. Yesterday, however, the official day for the completion of the transaction on the £20 million-plus deal, it became apparent that almost all of the tenants have taken the opportunity to decide their own destiny and buy their farms on some of the best-quality land in the country.
Since they moved into the position of preferred bidders two months ago, Angus Estates, a holding company owned by Edinburgh financial entrepreneur James Manclark and Angus farmer Simon Laird, has worked hard in selling to sitting tenants. It is believed that in all but two of the farms it has succeeded and now instead of one landowner owning almost all the land between the boundaries of Dundee and Arbroath, the farmland has many first-time owners.
Angus Estates has, so far, retained the area around the former Panmure mansion house. This includes almost 600 acres of grass parks, 1000 acres of woodland and several properties. It has also retained the estate workforce. Although not quite being able to trace their roots back to Norman times as the ownership of the estate could do, some of the tenancies went back two and three generations and one unit was being farmed by a fifth-generation tenant. All of these farmers now move into the owner-occupier category.
This dramatic change could hardly have been envisaged eight months ago when the estate came on to the market. Although the tenants were helped by lotting the estate into seven chunks, the possibility of getting anyone of these. groups together to put a bid was harder, as one tenant said, "than herding cats." Six tenants who felt like that and who had been involved in two separate failed tenant bids back in the 1970s, put their weight behind Irish property developer John Moore, a man rumoured to have made some of his millions around the site of the new Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. While the bid of Mr. Moore failed, it perhaps helped break the mould of thought that tenants would be unable to buy. There was then a slight intermission in the sale as selling agents, Cluttons, picked out a Winchester-based shell company belonging to a Mr. Amos as the next preferred bidder. Mr. Amos's previous land-owning sojourn in the Scottish borders left a few worries and his preferred bidder status was soon removed.
This left Cluttons to try, for a third time, to find someone to come up with the money and although they had been involved since the whole selling saga started last autumn, it was this third trawl that brought Angus Estates to the top. Mr. Laird, who has had factoring experience in Angus and farming experience in Poland, said at the outset that he wanted to sell on to tenants.
There was a reaction from some who expressed the view that the Angus Estates valuation did not reflect the current earning value of land, even if it was the grade one and two land of Panmure. This view, supported by outside experts, seems to have evaporated in the past few weeks in a rush for ownership. Two tenants, at least, seized the high valuation of their tenanted farms as a basis for discussion on how much Angus Estates might be prepared to offer them to give up their tenancies. These farms have now gone to another former tenant. Others may follow that lead and sell their farms quickly. Those farming outwith Panmure Estate have long lusted after the top quality of land there. Indeed, a quarter of all grade one and two land in Scotland lies in this one area.
Many tenants who thought there might be a late discount in their price tried waiting as long as they could in the wheeling and dealing that has consumed much of the past two months. Mr. Laird denied that any prices had been slashed in an "end of sale" deal and stated, "We set our price and stuck to our guns." He described the work involved in breaking up the property as a "very interesting and largely successful exercise both for ourselves and the tenants. We delivered what we said we would."
Now those owner-occupiers will have an extra satisfaction as they watch their crops grow. Some might also be aware of the bank manager also looking over the hedges and fences as they, in turn, protect their interest.
However, even if there have been large sums of money borrowed to make the change, it is unlikely to make any noticeable rise in the Scottish bank borrowing figure to farming, which is already well over £1000 million.
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