Haltwhistle employer may shut plant over path dispute

The owners of a major employer in  a Northumberland town have threatened to move after a bitter dispute with neighbours over a claimed right of way

Melkridge Hall in Melkridge near Haltwhistle who have caused an argument about access
Melkridge Hall in Melkridge near Haltwhistle who have caused an argument about access

The owners of a major employer in  a Northumberland town have threatened to move after a bitter dispute with neighbours over a claimed right of way.

The family that owns Kilfrost in Haltwhistle has said it is considering relocating the business, which employs more than 50 people at the factory, after the row with people at  Melkridge.

The firm has also ceased most of its charitable giving in the area.

Last night, a community leader and a county councillor criticised the family, accusing them of issuing the threats in an attempt to sway the decision-making about the route.

The factory, which makes de-icing products, is run by Gary Lydiate, who lives with wife Louise Halbert and mother-in-law Maureen Halbert at Melkridge Hall.

Earlier this year, the family blocked off a lane close to the hall by putting up a gate and locking it.

However, residents at Melkridge who claimed to have used the lane historically, applied with Melkridge Parish Council to Northumberland County Council to have it registered as a public right of way in an effort to get it reopened.

They say it is the safest point at which to cross the busy A69, which divides the village.

At a meeting of the county council’s planning committee this week, members were   recommended to agree that the route should be registered as a restricted byway with no vehicular access.

Documents   showed a total of 44 people had submitted forms to the authority, saying they had used the route for more than 20 years.

Planning papers also detailed claims of people visiting the alleged right of way being reported to the police for alleged harassment, and of “intimidating” letters being sent to the 44 who filled in the forms.

Mrs Halbert senior made counter claims of things being thrown into her garden, people snooping around its fences, others taking   photos of the hall, driving past slowly and “intimidation against me and my family”.

This, she says, was in the form of a letter “full of hate” about  which the police were contacted.

A letter from Mrs Halbert senior was presented to the committee before it had determined the application.

It said: “I have told my family that we will fight this as long as I am alive and thereafter too.

“In the mean time, I have instructed my son-in-law to protect me and my family.

“As part of protecting us, to also stop all charitable giving locally (with the exception of the middle school).”

“I also know that since we are not welcome locally that the family business is seriously looking at options to relocate the factory and closing down the Haltwhistle facility with the potential loss of 52 jobs.”

Despite this, councillors voted in favour of the recommendation.

Speaking afterwards, Mr Lydiate said: “This is about an attack on an 85-year-old woman and her garden.”

But the family’s letter was condemned by parish council chairman Pat Reed and committee member Dougie Watkin. Coun Reed said: “The villagers are relieved at this decision being made, but we were told in advance by Mr Lydiate’s solicitor that if they did not go in their favour, they would be taking it to public inquiry appeal.

“It would not seem to be the end of the matter.

She said of the letter: “I was not comfortable for them to do that.”

Coun Watkin said: “It is extremely disappointing that somebody should feel that   they can influence the due course of the law   by issuing what is clearly a threat to an   authority.

“The law is the law, everybody in this country is expected to obey the law.

“It is sad when you see these things   occurring.

“The rights and wrongs of this will come out in the procedure, but that is purely on the evidence that was placed before us and we can not be influenced by other issues.”

Earlier this week, Mr Lydiate was part of a 30-strong delegation visiting Kazakhstan with Prime Minister David Cameron and Trade and Investment Minister Lord Green, to boost trade links and secure agreements worth £700m to British companies.

Mr Lydiate was due to sign a memorandum of understanding with the mayor of the city of Astana, potentially worth £50m over the coming five years.

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