‘Council is forcing us off grazing land’

John Bates pictured with daughter Jade and one of the horses at his Heselden allotment.

John Bates pictured with daughter Jade and one of the horses at his Heselden allotment.

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A DAD says council chiefs are forcing him off land that has been used by his family for more than 40 years as they try to balance their books.

John Bates’ father Joseph first took over the grazing licence for three acres of land at Hesleden in the 1960s, and John had planned to hand the small-holding down to his daughter, Jade, 11, when she is older.

But John, 47, says Durham County Council is going to sell the land, known locally as Hillcrest allotments, at auction and haven’t given him first refusal.

The local authority is selling off surplus land in County Durham as a way of making more than £123m in savings over the next four years.

Coun Rob Crute, who represents Blackhall on Durham County Council, said the policy is affecting 20 sites in east Durham and has expressed concerns that developers and other outside parties could buy the land and do whatever they like with it, causing “upheaval” for the community.

John, who lives in the village’s Hazel Drive, keeps seven pet horses on the land in six stables, as well as sheep.

He said: “If it goes to auction, we don’t stand a chance.

“It has got stables on and someone will come and pay a fortune for it.

“If they want £5,000 an acre I will pay.

“I don’t work as I have had seven back operations – I would have to do it on my mortgage.

“But the council is just trying to get as much money as they can for it, which I think is unfair and immoral.”

John, who has a partner Julie Gibson, 46, said he was originally given seven days notice to get off the land around three months ago, but the council deferred the auction.

He says villagers Arthur Clarke and Pauline Rigby have 10 acres of land at the site between them and they are in the same situation.

Coun Crute and Monk Hesleden Parish Council expressed disappointment at the treatment of the tenants and have asked the county council to review its policy to ensure tenants are treated equally and fairly.

A parish council spokeswoman said: “The parish council acknowledges the need for the county council to raise capital but the need to maintain the social fabric of our communities is just as important.”

Don McLure, the county council’s corporate director for resources, said: “We are required to obtain the best price for the land and the only way of doing this fairly is to make the land available for sale on the open market.

“We appreciate that this may be a difficult time for grazing licensees but it is our legal responsibility to carry out the sale in this way and the licensees will have the same rights to bid for the land as anyone else.

“However, the sale of some areas has been deferred to allow licensees more time to vacate the land.”