Tag Archives: Chalmers & Co

Haddington Show Survey Reveals Local Demand for More Rural Businesses

Chalmers & Co and Scottish Land & Estates at Haddington Show.
Chalmers & Co tent at the Haddington Show.

Chalmers & Co, supported by Scottish Land & Estates, carried out a short, qualitative survey at the Haddington Show to garner some views on whether our rural communities have enough businesses and how local government and planning authorities could make it easier for new rural businesses to set up.

Jacob ram at Haddington Show
Jacob ram at Haddington Show

“As you’d expect when unemployment is high and so many people commute into our cities, a majority of respondents believe our rural communities do need more businesses,” says Francis Ogilvy, owner of Chalmers & Co.

“I was interested to hear that financial support seems to be the most popular request, followed by freeing up planning restrictions and encouraging a more flexible approach. The suggestion of involving farmers and landowners more actively in the planning process also makes sense. If communities and the Council are serious about rural employment, clearly there needs to be a clear, integrated strategy to promote this and the county as being genuinely ‘open for business.”

The survey suggested that taking a more flexible and open attitude to the development of sites for business use would make it easier for new businesses to set up in local communities. Targeting specific business sectors for rural business parks in a ‘cluster’ style of approach, as well as improving infrastructure, particularly broadband, was also proposed.

The respondents suggested that more farmers and rural landowners could be encouraged to come forward with land and buildings for business use by reducing regulation and being more flexible about the implementation of planning laws and guidelines.

It was not a surprise that the need for easier access to funding was a recurring theme; several respondents believed that more support through grants, tax incentives and funding was needed, particularly for start up businesses.

It was pointed out that there is a trend for jobs to return to the city centre away from business parks because of the better services, restaurants and ambiance on offer. More rural businesses and employment opportunities would help counter this trend.

What do you want from your countryside?

Chalmers & Co at the Haddington Show.

Please visit Chalmers & Co’s tent at the Haddington Show this Saturday 29th at East Fortune to give us your views on what developments and businesses you want to see in our countryside. We will be delighted to share drinks and strawberries with you.  For the most stimulating response, we shall be offering 50% off a mid-week break in one of our clients’ self-catering properties marketed through our new enterprise – Chalmers Cottages.

“We are here on earth to do good unto others.  What others are here for, I have no idea.” WH Auden.

As a firm of chartered surveyors, architects and estate agents, we work to the former question, but to ensure that we are in tune; we think you want the following:

Jobs: Our towns and countryside need appropriate development to sustain and create new jobs.  This was the focus of the Rural Voice Campaign, which will contribute to the new Local Development Plan.

Diversity: In our countryside as well as our towns.

Access: Sharing resources in the country for recreation and business. –

Investment: Critical for jobs; necessary to show off East Lothian at its best.

Care for Environment: Farmers and land managers should be best placed for this.

Energy Security: Biomass district heating,  wind and solar systems can generate good returns as well as being sustainable.

Trust: When this breaks down, it is replaced by regulation which stifles entrepreneurship.

Engagement: Community engagement is important and necessary to regain trust.

Our partner at our main ringside tent, Scottish Land and Estates, shares the same vision and principles.  We will also be joined by Core Health, whose Life Style Medicine Centre now occupies the converted steading at Prora Farm, Drem and for whom we undertook the architectural work.

We hope that we may see you at the show.

Chalmers & Co is not surprised that Shelter criticizes cowboy letting agents

The slump in house purchases has meant that the number of households renting privately in Scotland has nearly doubled to 290,000 over the past 10 years. The number of letting agents has also increased dramatically to about 500. The result is that complaints to the property ombudsman have risen by 123% in five years.

Letting agents for private property should be regulated by the Scottish government, says the leading housing charity Shelter.

Shelter Scotland said the sector was becoming filled with “cowboy” operators because agents needed no professional expertise or experience to set up.

“We’re not altogether surprised at Chalmers & Co,” says Christopher Lamotte at the firm. “We’ve seen a lot of inexperienced estate agents moving into lettings and management, and quite a few new agents entering the market, often trying to undercut us. They think it’s an easy source of new revenue but have little experience and few processes.

“The result is poor, unprofessional client service for both the landlord and the tenant. Properties for let are mis-represented and maintenance is inadequate.

“Chalmers & Co has been in the letting business for about 50 years. We’re chartered surveyors so we are regulated by the RICS. Chalmers & Co manages nearly 200 properties and most of our landlord clients are very long term.

“All of Chalmers & Co’s properties are formally inspected internally and externally every year. We have an excellent network of trusted tradesmen and builders to maintain properties, and our architects get when properties need significant improvements. We have robust letting and management processes which look after both our landlords and tenants.”

Shelter said regulation was vital as the UK government’s changes to Housing Benefit were likely to increase demand for rented accommodation.

The Scottish government said it would publish a strategy for the private rented sector by the end of the month.

But according to the charity’s director, Graeme Brown, agents are unregulated, and complaints against them are increasing.

“They’re letting properties that are in disrepair; they’re claiming some properties are furnished when they’re unfurnished,” he said.

“Some of them are setting up business, taking deposits, closing down and setting up under a different name. “These are cowboys. This is Wild West territory and we want the Scottish government to regulate this sector.”

If you’re unhappy with your letting agent’s service, feel free to contact Chalmers & Co for some advice on 01620 824000.

Wilma Flockhart retires from Chalmers & Co after 31 years service

Wilma Retires
Wilma Retires

Mrs Wilma Flockhart has just retired from Chalmers & Co, chartered surveyors & architects, after being with the firm for 31 years under the guise of John Sale then Chalmers & Co. Amongst her roles, she has managed the lettings and estate agency departments.

“Wilma has played a key role in making Chalmers & Co East Lothian and Midlothian’s leading residential letting and management business,” says Francis Ogilvy, owner of the firm.

“Having been to school at Knox Academy and being Haddington born and bred, she is well known by our many local clients. We will all miss her experience and sound property management advice, and wish her an enjoyable and relaxing retirement.”

Chalmers & Co’s Estate Agency Manager is Scott Jack, who has been in the post for three years. He will shortly be joined by a new Deputy Manager, who will be involved in lettings, sales and Chalmers Cottages, the firm’s new locally-based holiday letting venture.

Opportunity to Join Local Plan Debate on Appropriate Rural Development

Combine working. Rural land management. Chalmers & Co.

There is still an opportunity to contribute to the forthcoming East Lothian Local Development Plan and help define what is meant by ‘appropriate rural development’. Arguably, the planning system tends to be urban-centric – perhaps not surprising given that is where more people live and more development happens.  But the challenges of development in the countryside tend not to be given sufficient attention or debate, so there should be more of a debate about the future shape of our East Lothian countryside.

This debate shouldn’t simply be about what society wants the countryside to look like – whether there are wind turbines on the horizon, for example.  The debate should also be about the future of our rural communities.  Do we want more jobs in our villages?  More commuters?  More businesses?  More facilities?  The answers to these questions should inform the forthcoming East Lothian Local Development Plan.

“Farmers, landowners and rural business owners need to come forward and ensure that they contribute to the East Lothian Local Development Plan while there is still an opportunity. The ‘Rural Voice’ needs to be heard,” says Francis Ogilvy, chartered surveyor and owner of Chalmers & Co, land agents and architects.

‘Farmers and landowners are not engaging enough in the planning system so do not have a leg to stand on when it goes against them.’ This was one conclusion that could be drawn from the Chalmers & Co Question Time debate held earlier in the summer as 90% of those attending (farmers, landowners and their advisors) confessed to not having ever read the Main Issues Report or East Lothian Local Plan.

“Is it time to face the music about the state of our national and local economy and adapt planning policies to stimulate growth?” asks Francis Ogilvy. “They have arguably sought to do this at Westminster but evidence in downtown Haddington is less apparent. What would you like to see happen here or would the very thought of short term gain conjure a fear of long term regret such that the two are not to be reconciled?”

“What is meant by ‘Appropriate Rural Development’? This is one of the key questions to ask in relation to proposals for change in the countryside. All of us who work in the countryside should have a better understanding of what is meant by ‘appropriate development’.

For example: are rural business parks ‘appropriate development’ if they provide rural jobs and sustain local communities, even if they are built on green fields?  Is mineral extraction ‘appropriate development’ if it means that construction materials for nearby towns and cities can be sourced locally?

“Phrases like 100% Renewable Scotland’, whatever this means, are increasingly used in conference speeches and the countryside should take a worthwhile lead in bringing this vision to life. There is much that the rural economy can offer and more that we can do to influence it, so let’s have that debate!

“‘BANANA’ reactions (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything (or Anyone) are a natural consequence of extreme development proposals; perhaps they should be turned down. However, if we are to create a diverse rural economy that can contribute and compete with urban counterparts, we need to encourage investment in the countryside. If we want a ‘Mars Bar countryside’ – where people can ‘work, rest and play’ – we need to engage in the debate to make it happen.”

Anyone who would like to feed into the debate to promote a greater understanding of what is meant by ‘appropriate rural development’ is encouraged to get in touch with Francis Ogilvy at Chalmers & Co or to visit and contribute to the blog on Chalmers & Co’s website www.chalmers-surveyors.com (01620 824000 or f.ogilvy@chalmers-surveyors.com). This will culminate in a workshop with interested parties and a proposal which will be submitted to the local planning officials who have indicated a willingness to incorporate such a Rural Voice in formulation of future planning policy.

For reference – the 10 point summary of the Chalmers & Co Question Time was:

1.    The farming sector needs to do things differently: innovate with ‘sustainable intensification’ and ‘smart specialisation’.
2.    Planners too need greater innovation for rural areas and should encourage small businesses.
3.    Rural communities need cohesion and leadership to be viable centres and for community engagement to work.
4.    Delivery of renewable energy from the countryside is welcomed and to be encouraged, but only when considered as part of a mix.
5.    Urban businesses, including manufacturing should be incentivized and educate to relocate to the countryside.
6.    Access to superfast broadband is critical for the viability of the countryside and should be a priority of government and community groups.
7.    The Main Issues Report is an opportunity to request that the Local Development Plan does more for rural enterprise and encourage organic growth round existing settlements.
8.    The agriculture of tomorrow will be knowledge-based, making more food from less land. There therefore needs to be a sensible discussion on genetic modification.
9.    We should celebrate what our countryside offers – embrace what is good and positively sell its benefits to investors and visitors for mutual benefit.
10.    The Local Development Plan must recognise and provide for non-land use issues contained in the government’s Land Use Strategy: renewable energy production, food production, supply chains and innovation.


"Something Needs to Change", says East Lothian's Rural Voice

Rural Voice Workshop
Rural Voice Workshop

Is it appropriate to continue with a planning policy based on restraint in the rural areas of East Lothian?  Should an alternative strategy be adopted to secure a sustainable future for rural communities and areas?

These are some of the questions discussed in a report called East Lothian’s Rural Voice, a community perspective on the future of East Lothian’s countryside. The pioneering Rural Voice report is based on an online survey and workshop agreed between and sponsored by the Council and Chalmers & Co, chartered surveyors and architects. The fact-based Rural Voice report will feed into the Main Issues Report for the new East Lothian Local Development Plan via the Rural Forum.

The facilitators and report’s authors, Urban Animation and Nick Wright Planning, identified one thread which ran through all of the discussions: something needs to change.  It suggests that there is a good opportunity for the Council to break new ground with an integrated rural planning policy that releases rural economic potential, enables sustainable communities, and conserves natural resources.

“The initial challenge” says Francis Ogilvy, owner of Chalmers & Co. “was to identify a genuine, objective and respected Rural Voice in partnership with the Council. This was intended to assist the formulation of planning policy and thereby make a difference for those who operate in the countryside. The report says essentially that ‘the countryside is open for business’; the next challenge is to make this happen to sustain and develop rural employment and the social and environmental benefits that can come with this.”

The survey and workshop’s participants concluded that the next East Lothian Local Plan needs to focus on enterprise and creating the conditions that would enable thriving rural economies and communities over the next 10 to 15 years.

Many of the 40 participants at the workshop at Winton House believed that economic development will come predominantly from local initiative and enterprise rather than external investment. This view is supported by Carnegie UK Trust research which challenges the conventional urban-centric view and demonstrates that rural economies have huge untapped economic potential .

Ian Glen, Policy and Projects Manager for planning at the Council intimated at the workshop that the Call for Sites in early 2012 to inform the planning process resulted in a large number of housing sites being proposed by landowners, but almost none for employment – an observation that raises a number of issues relative to delivering goals for economic activity in the countryside. In responding to the report, he was keen to draw the distinction between policy and practice. He defended the theme coming out of the workshop that the current policy framework may be deterring investment proposals from coming forward and suggested that the facts are not necessarily in line with some of the stated perceptions.

Councillor John McMillan, Chairman of the Rural Forum and Susan Smith, Head of the Economic Development Unit both welcomed the report and indicated at the recent meeting of the Rural Forum that they regarded the Forum as the natural conduit to take this forward. They recognised the shared aspirations contained in the Council’s recently approved Economic Development Strategy with the Rural Voice Report and the need therefore to create the conditions that encourage rural investment and appropriate development needed to help our rural communities and businesses realise their full potential.

Copies of the report can be obtained (or comments made) by emailing a.stevenson@chalmers-surveyors.com or f.ogilvy@chalmers-surveyors.com or by calling Chalmers & Co on 01620 824000.

Chalmers & Co reports that strong tenant demand could drive up rents

A North Berwick property with views of the Firth of Forth which recently let for more than the asking rent.
A North Berwick property with views of the Firth of Forth which recently let for more than the asking rent.

Chalmers & Co, letting and management agents, report that their clients saw residential rents across East Lothian and Midlothian increase in line with inflation when rents were reviewed this spring. Similarly, average monthly rents in Edinburgh rose by 2.9% roughly in line with the RPI in April to June compared to the same period last year, according to Citylets (Q2 2012).

However, bigger rental hikes may be in the pipeline because of the continuing strength of demand for rental properties.

The size of the Scottish private rental market continues to grow, having increased by about two-thirds (67%) over the last 10 years or so. In the most recently published Scottish Household Survey there are estimated to be 273,000 privately rented dwellings in Scotland as of March 2010, a figure that has increased by more than 110,000 since March 2001.

Scott Jack, lettings manager at Chalmers & Co, says:

“There are plenty of tenants looking for properties. Since the start of this year, about one third of our properties have been let or re-let right away with no void (empty period) and the average void period has been about 19 days. The level of demand for some properties has resulted in competition with tenants offering to pay more than the asking rent.  A three bedroom flat in North Berwick with views of the Forth recently let for over the asking rent. We haven’t experienced that for some time.

“However, it is still really important for landlords to set rents at realistic levels. Trying to achieve higher rents than the market will sustain tends to result in longer void periods and lost rental income over the year.”

The trend towards renting rather than buying homes continues to be driven by weak demand from house buyers. Average house prices in East Lothian fell marginally by 2.8% (ESPC, September 2012) although the average house price, £224,609, is still higher than in other areas of the Lothians. According to the Registers of Scotland prices are broadly flat, and are expected to remain fairly level up to the end of 2012. It is, therefore, still a buyers’ market but, at least, the market is stable.

However, more transactions are taking place as over 10% more homes have sold across Edinburgh and the Lothians during the first seven months of the year.  The biggest increase in the number of properties sold was in East Lothian where the number of sales was 21.5% higher compared to last year (ESPC).

Scott Jack of Chalmers & Co continues:

“Some clients who are struggling to sell are having to rent out their property for the short term. If they are keeping their house on the market for sale at the same time, careful management can be needed by the agent to keep both the tenant and landlord happy.”

“On the positive side, house prices are still lower than they were at the top of the market, interest rates are still at historic lows, and there’s some evidence of more first time buyers coming into the market.”

Chalmers & Co offers free rental and sales valuations and can be contacted via 01620 824000, enquiries@chalmers-surveyors.com or at www.chalmers-surveyors.com

Rural Development: Throwing down the gauntlet – gently!

Core Health Wellness Centre. Chalmers & Co Architects.‘New Life from Old Buildings’ was a theme for debate and practical demonstration in May. East Lothian Council, landowners, rural businesses, advisors and planners shared their thoughts and views on the opportunities for rural development to members of Scottish Land & Estates, the body representing 2,500 landowners, farmers and rural businesses.

The setting was Winton House near Pencaitland, appreciated for its 600 years of history and tranquil setting and now an exclusive use corporate and private hospitality venue. Sir Francis Ogilvy acted as chairman of this event hosted in his own home. He also represented Chalmers & Co, chartered surveyors and architects.

Appropriate Development

Paul Zochowski, senior planner at East Lothian Council, painted a picture of East Lothian rural development with examples of good practice including the recently opened Core Health Centre at Prora Farm.  He affirmed that East Lothian Council is here to support rural development, although within parameters.

Paul told the audience how few commercial planning applications are received from businesses keen to develop compared with the high pressure for housing.  Reasons for this were not explored although, arguably, the gauntlet was thrown down for others to pick up.

John Sanders, partner at Simpson & Brown Architects, proposed that design in the countryside can be bold and still appropriate and he presented many examples of possibilities including whole villages that provide wins all round.

Matthew Hale, a development advisor with Rural Solutions emphasized the need to do your homework and research the market. This view was supported by others who acknowledged that getting consents from planners, bankers and other related parties should be more straight forward as a consequence.

Matthew suggested there are plenty of worthwhile projects and opportunities but that to be successful, they need to be appropriate and market-led.  The need for financial control was, naturally, stressed by joint sponsors for the occasion, Landmark Systems, since they supply financial management software.

Case Studies

The opportunity to view the recent replacement biomass boiler serving Winton House and adjoining cottages was taken to good effect. The installation demonstrates cutting edge technology and design and was promoted as being worthy of replication for clusters of rural properties. The installers, The Wood Heating Company and engineers, Realise Renewables, were on hand to share their knowledge and expertise.

A case study on transferring farming operations elsewhere in favour of self catering accommodation, was examined at a nearby redundant farm steading at Wintohill. Picking up on the morning’s themes, David Brackenridge and Fraser Sheerin of Chalmers & Co’s architectural team highlighted the need to follow a logical development process.

The Conclusion

Appropriate development in the countryside is certainly possible, often desirable and potentially of great value to the rural economy.  The gauntlet has been thrown down; the advice was that early engagement of a professional team is critical to discover and facilitate the potential of rural assets.

Chalmers & Co disappointed by delay to launch of Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI)

Wood chip store for biomass boiler | Winton HouseThe launch of the widely announced Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) for non-domestic generators, which was planned for 30th September 2011 following earlier delays, has been postponed again.  It cannot go ahead without state aid and the European Commission has expressed concerns that the large biomass tariff is set too high.

Changing the large biomass tariff will require the RHI regulations to be amended and submitted to Parliament for approval.  Adding further delays to the RHI launch, Whitehall’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) must then wait for written confirmation from the Commission before making an announcement about what this means for the large biomass tariff and the timing of the launch.  See:

Francis Ogilvy, owner of Chalmers & Co East Lothian estate agents and land agents, comments:

“This demonstrates that reliance on subsidy is as risky it seems, perhaps more so than reliance on the market!  Better to stick to sound business principles of working for customers and selling at a margin over the cost of production – time to get our own canoes out and start paddling!”

Renewable Energy Production Drop in Scotland

Disappointing Statistics from DECC indicate that the total amount of renewable energy produced from wind and hydro power schemes in Scotland fell last year.

Low rainfall meant that hydro fell by a third and despite a sharp increase in the number of turbines installed, there was only a 6% increase in the amount of power they produced.

More positive news on renewable energy is that using wood as a fuel is on a strong growth trend in Scotland.

Chalmers & Co, land agents and estate agents, is a fan of using wood as a fuel as long as it is sourced from sustainable forestry. The firm was one of the first high street offices in the UK to convert its heating system to a biomass one fuelled with wood pellets.

Improving and extending is all the rage

A kitchen diner extension by Chalmers & Co's team of architects.
A kitchen diner extension by Chalmers & Co's team of architects.

If you need a bigger kitchen, more bedrooms, an office or just more space but can’t afford to move house, you’re not alone. Sarah Beeny’s new series ‘Double your house for half the money’ jumps on this don’t move, improve bandwagon.

“This series acknowledges that ensuring you get professional architectural advice from the start of a project is essential,” says David Brackenridge, architect at Chalmers & Co.

“You get a better return on the investment in your home and it helps you avoid some of the many pitfalls.”

Chalmers & Co have been following this trend since East Lothian’s house market dived in 2008. The firm of architects and estate agents has helped homeowners, developers, businesses and community groups build or alter their properties over the last decade.

“In the current difficult economic climate, we’ve seen more homeowners approaching us to extend and improve their homes instead of moving house. We’re currently spending more than half our time working on home improvement and extension projects locally,” says David Brackenridge, Chartered Architect at Chalmers & Co.

“For lots of people, and particularly homeowners, the whole development process can be a stressful experience, so we aim to take the anxiety out of the project. Working with a well established local architect is designed to protect you from things that could go wrong. Our good relationships with local planners and builders save time and money, ensuring quality buildings at cost effective prices.

“As letting specialists, we’ve also noticed many landlords investing in their let properties to improve rental returns, adding extensions, new kitchens, new bathrooms, and improved heating systems. Some of our work includes renewable energy solutions, and we regularly provide advice on advice on energy efficiency, alternative heating options and any grants that might be available.

“Local planners have strict rules, but a good knowledge of the planning system combined with creative flair can transform a home. We always like to inject some ‘wow’ into projects to improve a property’s value and future marketability (and so that our clients can impress their friends!).

Please call David Brackenridge, chartered architect at Chalmers & Co, on 01620 824000 for some free initial advice (d.brackenridge@chalmers-surveyors.com)