A 30-year-old plum orchard has been given a new lease of life and will now host a new glamping site, providing a fresh income stream for Rankins Farm at Linton, near Maidstone. The 15-acre orchard will eventually be home to 12 self-contained timber pods and the team at BTF Partnership’s Challock office have advised and guided the owners Mr and Mrs Sunnucks throughout the planning process.
The Sunnuck family knew they wanted to use the site for glamping but they needed advice on how to navigate the planning process. The key issue often faced with this type of farm diversification project is the impact on the local environment, the landscape and the agricultural land itself. In this case, the effects were mitigated by retaining some of the old plum orchard and keeping the development above ground.
The pods are installed with minimal disturbance to the ground and the perimeter of the orchards will be allowed to flourish naturally, helping to encourage insects, birds and mammals. Further new tree planting will take place to enhance the site and natural ponds will play a key role for wildlife. The new scheme seeks to provide an idyllic rural retreat within the orchards, and blend in seamlessly with the local landscape.
The move by farms to provide furnished holiday accommodation has seen slower uptake here in Kent than in other parts of the UK, however there is a strong demand for high quality tourist accommodation, which, given Kent’s proximity to both mainland Europe and London, provides an attractive destination, especially for short breaks.
So how do you create a similar opportunity on your farm? The first and most important stage is to assess the site. It is important to determine whether it might be too visible on the landscape, whether the site is prone to flooding and also whether it is within a conservation area or Area Outstanding Natural Beauty. The impact on the countryside is a key consideration, along with the access available to visitors, traffic created and how services are to be supplied. We are very happy to assess a potential site and make recommendations on the type of glamping use which may be permitted.
When considering a glamping site against converting redundant farm buildings, glamping has the advantage that it can have minimal impact on your day to day farming operations and you can choose where to locate the site. Existing farm buildings may be too close to the main farmhouse or operational areas of the farm and other farm buildings, or simply be too expensive to convert for glamping use. It is often a case of assessing the farming business as a whole to identify where assets might be used most effectively and find the right role for the right asset.
Installing safari tents and teepees, which can be taken down in the winter, might receive more local authority support as they will be considered a temporary structure. Wooden pods and shepherds’ huts might also blend in better with the local environment, unless prominent on the landscape. More unusual structures, such as a recycled shipping container, will have a greater visual impact on the landscape albeit that they might be more environmentally friendly
A key part of this initial stage of planning is to put together a compelling business plan and to cost it out. It is important to demonstrate that this is part of a farm diversification project and that it will also help to boost tourism and the wider local economy. This is an important exercise, for your own use as well as part of the planning process. A clear business plan will help identify the likely running costs and gross margins connected with the project, which in turn should be tested against sensitivity analysis to ensure what level of occupation is required throughout the year in order to produce a profit. This can be particularly relevant for sites with planning limits for use in certain months of the year only.
Sarah Sunnucks at Rankins Farm www.rankinsfarm.co.uk explains: “We were looking to generate revenue in addition to fruit growing and it was actually our daughters who suggested we look at glamping. We already run a successful holiday cottage on the farm, so this is not too dissimilar.”
“All of the pods are self-contained units – like mini holiday cottages and are installed to site part furnished and ready to plug into facilities. We have received RPA funding for this project and we are also building a mini adventure playground. This will help us with targeting young families and also couples. Being so close to London is an advantage, as we hope to attract those looking for a weekend away as well as a longer break.
The old orchards will be grubbed out in part in the coming weeks and we hope to be up and running for the later part of this summer.”