Henry Brooks is a new breed of estate manager. Having worked at his parents’ Tatton Estate since the 1990s, Henry set up his own business, Tatton Group, to help add value for clients through a variety of divisions: Tatton Property, Planning & Utilities, Tatton Locations & Film Studios, Tatton Events & Weddings, Tatton Stays (short lets), Tatton Works (shared office space), and Tatton Tech (anchored around ultrafast broadband). Henry’s grandfather, Harry, was a successful shopkeeper, buying the small estate at Peover in 1940 where Henry’s parents still live, and later, the parts of Tatton Estate that were not bequeathed to the National Trust. Harry and Randle Brooks added commercial and retail properties around the affluent Cheshire town of Knutsford to the portfolio, and it was these that gave a young Henry his first experience of development when challenged to let a unit left derelict after the bankruptcy of a tenant. “I suggested we combine the units and try to attract a supermarket,” explains Henry. “Despite being told by the agent at the time that ‘it won’t work and they won’t want it’, we ended up with a bidding war between Tesco and Sainsburys. Aged little more than 18, challenging conventional wisdom was difficult, but it has given me the confidence to do so on many occasions since.”
After a spell in Europe working in financial accounting at Pirelli tyres, Henry then worked for Australian investment bank Macquarie out of Singapore. It proved a formative period in both his business and personal development. He explains: “Two lessons that I thought at the time had absolutely zero use to a rural Cheshire estate proved more relevant than I ever imagined. Working for an Australian bank taught me the importance of bluntness and candour, as well as believing very little is impossible.” It was also during this relatively short career in finance that he saw the value of always having transition plans when taking on assets, which applies as much to derelict farms as it does to turning around Thames Water or buying a toll road in Guangzhou (former Canton).
Heart of the Matter
The estate has deep roots in the surrounding villages. To many, the heart of a rural community is its pub, but the village of Bostock on which his grandfather acquired permission to develop as retail. A proposal of a “rather nice” Queen Anne style parade was vetoed by the Fine Arts Society, which was statutory consultee and demanded something modern, which Henry describes as a rather ugly 1960s carbuncle. With only a touch of humour, Henry says: “Amazingly it is a commercial success, which is rather unfair as something unattractive really ought to be a dismal failure.” The lesson here, says Henry, is: “Be stubborn. Don’t go the easy way but have the fight because history will be your judge.”
It is not surprising that he sees the Prince of Wales, and his work in creating new communities in Poundbury and Nansledan, as an inspiration. Indeed, the Tatton Group is going through the planning process on behalf of Tatton Estate for two new residential-led, mixed use developments, together hopefully delivering not just 500 new homes, but complete communities. Having successfully promoted their allocation with the Cheshire East local plan, and able to benefit from existing or planned infrastructure, both new villages aspire to comprise genuinely mixed use, sustainable development with high-quality landscaping and architecture. The plan will provide mixed retail and commercial opportunities, and enhance leisure, sport and community facilities – possibly including a much-needed new medical centre for the area. Success to Henry is not simply financial. With five children, he has Green simply had an empty social club in a historic building. Unsurprisingly, Henry saw obvious potential, although others didn’t immediately. After patiently keeping it derelict for over two years while waiting for the right occupier, the property was taken on a 50-year lease by restaurant group Brunning & Price, which in exchange for rent concessions completed a £2m transformation and extension of the building into a thriving and successful village pub with an excellent reputation far beyond the immediate community, creating some 60 jobs. Challenges can appear from anywhere. Introducing charging on more than an eye on the future. He says: “Nearly everything we do has a double bottom line. Yes, absolutely there’s a commercial drive, but this is our home. We live here, work here, our children go to school here and we want to leave it better than we found it.”
Facing the Housing Crisis
His plans for the future are ambitious. “The housing crisis is very acute and very real, and it’s led me, with a number of other far more intelligent and influential people, to set up an organisation called Creating Communities. “The idea is to bring large landowners – be they institutions or private estates – together with long-term sources of finance and a town car park risked community rancour at the time, but the positive outcome is that people who come to spend money and support local businesses can now park. When it was free, commuters parked first thing in the morning and stayed all day, taking up crucial space. Henry is matter of fact about the trials and tribulations of business: “We have got into a few scrapes, learned a lot of lessons, made many mistakes and we’ve backed off from some things. But we have also learned to have the confidence to fight for what’s right even if it isn’t very popular at the time.” He cites the example of Canute Place in the centre of Knutsford, developers with a genuine interest and commitment to placemaking and quality in the long term. We aim to show government – and local government in particular – that new, large-scale settlements developed in partnership with large landowners are a huge part of the solution to the housing crisis. I think CLA members in particular can help solve one of this country’s greatest social issues and do something of real quality that not only benefits the nation, but also helps families secure finances to secure their own futures – a true win-win situation.” CLA members should count themselves lucky to have Henry Brooks as such a passionate and positive ambassador for landowners.
Henry Brooks Top Tips
- Aim for flexible change of use on an empty unit. Invariably, the best tenants who pay the best money want something yesterday. If you’ve already got permission for any use, you are unique because everyone else has got to wait for it
- Never underestimate the importance of investing in relationships to influence change
- When looking at the economy in a rural area, especially with Brexit looming, every farm, every estate and every CLA member should have a transition plan saying what they are trying to achieve and how to get there