RELIEVED villagers are a step closer to retaining land used by generations of their families after council chiefs struck a deal.
Durham County Council has agreed to give the holders of grazing licenses for various sites in east Durham first-refusal to buy land rather than selling it off at auction.
Villagers have breathed a sigh of relief after appearing in the Mail last month describing fears that they would lose their land.
John Bates previously told how he feared he would be forced off three acres of land at Hesleden’s Hillcrest allotments which his father had taken on in the 1960s.
The move was being proposed as the cash-strapped Durham County Council wanted to sell off surplus land as a way of making more than £123m in savings over the next four years.
But now, council chiefs say they will offer grazing licensees the option to buy.
Stuart Timmiss, the council’s head of planning, said: “There is a requirement for councils to secure best value from any land that they sell.
“The usual way of ensuring this is to make the land available for sale on the open market.
“However, following representations and a review of how we sell surplus land we believe that allowing current users first refusal achieves a balance between getting best price and ensuring that the current users have the right opportunity to continue using the land.
“We have listened to concerns and responded with what I feel is a more sensitive and pragmatic approach.”
Grazing licence holder John, 47, said: “It’s an absolute Godsend, we’re over the moon.
“All of the village backed us and Alan Napier from the council was true to his word.
“He said he would sort something out.
“The worry has changed my life. I’ve got grey hairs and whiskers, but it’s such a relief.”
John previously told how he had always planned to leave the land to his daughter, Jade, 11, when she is older.
He also has a son called Scott, 23, who is due back from a six-month tour of Iraq in May and will be relieved to hear his Clydesdale horse, Clyde, still has a home.
John, who lives in Hazel Drive, Hesleden, and has a partner called Julie Gibson, 46, said the land will now be valued and he expects valuers to “come up with proper grazing land prices”.
John, who receives incapacity benefit and previously said he would have to remortgage to compete against outside buyers, said: “I can’t see them coming asking for some stupid amount.
“But if they do, I will get an independent valuation.
“But I don’t think it will come to that.”
He thanked Blackhall councillor Rob Crute and Monk Hesleden Parish Council for their support,
Arthur Clarke and Pauline Rigby, who have 10 acres of land at the Hesleden site between them, also received similar good news.