EXCLUSIVE: Trinity College's £730 million land assets revealed

Image credit: Anna Thomas

An investigation for the Cambridge Student comparing college land ownership has revealed significant disparities in acreage and income, with Trinity College reportedly owning over £700 million worth of land.

However, their senior bursar, Rory Landman, has stressed that much of the income they get from the land is redistributed to other colleges.

TCS has used a combination of college accounts (if available) and freedom of information requests to give a snapshot of land ownership.

St John’s has the greatest total acreage at 14,700 acres. This land is located in Cambridge, elsewhere in Cambridgeshire, Kent, Lincolnshire, Yorkshire and Berkshire, and the estimated current value of the College’s agricultural and other land is around £80 million. This “agricultural and other land” does not include operational playing fields. St John’s College were unavailable for comment when contacted.

However, Trinity’s land is of more value than St John’s. Trinity owns 13,335 acres of land, with an estimated current unaudited worth of £730 million. The latter figure does not include the value of the main site. Although direct comparisons are tricky, this is over nine times the value of St John’s land.

Trinity does, however, contribute significantly to supporting the collegiate nature of the University. In the annual account of 30 June 2014, Trinity declared that it contributed approximately £7 million a year in support. £4,962,000 was in donations and £2,102,000 in university contribution. The former was down from £5,035,000 in 2013 and the latter up from £1,983,000.

Landman stated that “this represents about 25 per cent of the net income from Trinity College’s investments.”

A further £4.4 million is spent on scholarships and awards.

Landman explained how Trinity’s considerable wealth affected its position within the University: “Trinity is pleased to support collegiate Cambridge as part of its long-term commitment to the University. Trinity College believes that the diversity in the collegiate system, a historical legacy, should be celebrated as it is one of the University’s great strengths. It leads to a friendly rivalry and competition between the colleges which motivates and encourages us all.”

Aside from contributions to the University, Trinity also spends an average of £8 million of its income each year on maintenance and repair of its Grade I listed buildings. In 2014 only £5 million was spent in this area but Landman clarified that this was in anticipation of the recent refurbishment of New Court.

For the year ending 30 June 3015, the gross income from property for Trinity was £45.3 million, down from £46.2 million in 2014.

Trinity were unable to provide us with net profit as they do not take into account the costs, such as harvest and maintenance.

Trinity owns the 999 year lease of the O2 Arena, acquiring rental income. They also bought Dunsfold Park, Surrey for £50 million in 2014, which is the site of the BBC show Top Gear’s track.

In January of this year, it was revealed that Trinity had agreed to lease three dilapidated cottages and a disused squash court from the Cambridge Union Society, at a cost of £4.5 million. The Union will use the money to fund necessary renovations. The then Union president, Amy Gregg, said: “We are very excited to be able to take this step forward towards safeguarding the future of our Union’s building.”

Trinity’s land holdings are spread across the country, with high concentrations in Cambridge, Leeds, Felixstowe, and Trimley.

The Felixstowe land was first acquired in 1933, prior to the major development of the Port of Felixstowe, the largest container port in the UK. Now known as the Trimley Estate, these land holdings include farms, commercial estates and docks, a nature reserve and woodland, and a rifle range.

Trinity JCR President Cornelius Roemer told TCS: “In everyday student life, Trinity’s wealth is not very apparent. Rent levels are kept slightly below Uni average.”

He continued: “No student will have an identical experience, Cambridge is far too varied. One of the things students definitely lack at Trinity is statutory student representation. Many Colleges have student representation on their councils or at least on major committees, Trinity doesn’t. Maybe it’s because Trinity is so rich and they’re scared we’ll be spending rather than investing the money.”

Peterhouse, Pembroke and Corpus Christi complete the top five colleges in terms of acreage. Both Corpus Christi and Pembroke told TCS all the land they own is “in Cambridgeshire”.

King’s College does not keep a record of its acreage and so cannot be directly compared. However, it does have extensive land holdings in the local areas. These include Granchester Meadows and Granchester cricket pavilion. The land is worth over £9 million.

Downing, with 21 acres of agricultural land, holds the least amount of land among those who do, in the information we managed to obtain.

Robinson told TCS that they made a small loss on their land in the financial year 2014/15. The College has been seeking permission to develop land next to College accommodation on Romsey Terrace for two years, but have been met with local opposition. Labour city councillor Dave Baigent signed a petition in September 2014 in support of the residents.

Across the colleges, the predominant form that land holdings take is agricultural and much of the portfolios are located within Cambridgeshire – although this was sometimes the only information provided to us, such as for Darwin College.

Some colleges specified that the quoted figures did not include operational college land, but not all could tell us this. Several colleges have no land holdings beyond operational college land: Fitzwilliam, Homerton, Hughes Hall, Lucy Cavendish, Murray Edwards, Newnham, Robinson, Selwyn, Wolfson and Darwin.

Churchill, Clare Hall, St Edmund’s and Trinity Hall failed to respond to our FOI request within the required time period.

Gonville and Caius College were overdue, but informed us they were still collecting the relevant data.


Read more:

Caius' £7 annual payment to Trinity and other enjoyable land tidbits

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