National Trust takes out £100m loan to improve visitor facilities

The loan will be drawn down in two instalments and will have to be repaid by 2063 at a fixed interest rate of 2.7 per cent

A barn at Fresden Farm near Highworth in Wiltshire, which could be turned into a visitor centre (Photograph: John Millar)
A barn at Fresden Farm near Highworth in Wiltshire, which could be turned into a visitor centre (Photograph: John Millar)

<This article has been clarified; see below>

The National Trust has taken out a £100m loan to fund improvements to visitor facilities at its properties, the charity has announced.

On Friday, the trust said that it would spend approximately £20m a year on expanding, improving and upgrading facilities, as well as repairing farm buildings, homes and modernising holiday cottages.

It said that, despite spending £138m on conservation in 2017, investment in improving facilities had not kept pace with the popularity of its sites, which received 26.6 million visitors last year.

The loan, which is from the Pension Insurance Corporation, will be drawn down in two £50m instalments – one in March 2020, the other in March 2022, a spokesman for the charity said.

All the funds have to be repaid by 2063, the spokesman said, and an annual fixed interest rate of 2.7 per cent had been agreed.

The charity, which has five million members, said that no income from memberships or donations would be used on the planned improvements.

The move will focus on improving facilities including cafés, car parks and shops, some of which were built decades ago and have struggled to accommodate the rising number of visitors to some sites, according to the charity.

There has been a six-percentage-point fall in the number of visitors who rated as excellent the service they received at National Trust properties, the charity said, to 61 per cent of all visitors.

The charity has also introduced a revolving credit facility – a line of credit whereby customers pay a commitment fee to borrow money from an institution, which helps manage cash flows.

The charity said this would generate £4m a year for the National Trust and had been approved by the Charity Commission.

According to the charity’s latest accounts, for the year to 28 February 2018, the National Trust had a total income of £594.9m, compared with £591.7m the previous year.

Spending was £605.5m in 2017/18 compared with £567.4m the year before, the latest accounts show.

This meant that the charity had total funds of almost £1.4bn, compared with more than £1.2bn the previous year.

Sharon Pickford, director of member services at the National Trust, said that some facilities at affected sites were "inadequate or even non-existent".

She said: "That’s why we’re going to act on what our visitors have been telling us they want to see and invest in improving our facilities by using a low-interest loan.

"That allows us to fund this essential work while ensuring no money is diverted away from our vital conservation work. It’s an ambitious plan, which is good news for our charity and good news for the millions of members and visitors who love coming to our places."

- This story previously said: "The charity will also increase the amount of flexible funding available to invest in conservation by introducing a revolving credit facility – a line of credit whereby customers pay a commitment fee to borrow money from an institution." This was based on information in the charity's press release, which it has since amended.

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