A multi-million pound property deal has sparked fears among locals that a beautiful Northumberland landscape, stretching 4,500 acres, could be changed forever.
The Queen’s property company, the Crown Estate, announced last night that it had bought the land linked to Rio Tinto’s mothballed aluminium smelter.
Rio Tinto’s eight remaining farm workers have been made redundant, triggering concern among parish councillors about what the land could be used for if transferred away from farming.
A source close to the deal previously said: “The Crown Estate have a reputation in the renewable energy sector so the site is suited to their current operations.”
The property portfolio, which was on the market for £20m, includes agricultural land, farm buildings, 19 homes and an operational 13-turbine wind farm leased to Scottish Power Renewables.
The land has been managed as part of the Alcan Farms business since 1973.
It was originally purchased by the company to support operations at the smelter.
It will now become known as the Ellington Estate, which will form part of The Crown Estate’s 360,000 acre rural portfolio – one of the largest in the UK.
Kath Robson, a member of Ellington and Linton Parish Council, described the loss of eight farm workers’ jobs as “not good.”
“At the moment we don’t know what’s going on,” she said. “There are rumours that the Crown Estate will not be farming any animals and that it will be all arable.
“I imagine they’ll just ring-in large scale contractors to do the work and there will be no need for permament employees any more.
“We’ve also heard that wind mills might be going up, but we don’t known anything at this early stage.”
The Crown Estate said part of the attraction of the purchase was the diverse income stream boasted by the estate.
Ken Jones, director of The Crown Estate’s rural and coastal portfolio said: “We intend to preserve the estate’s diversified character, which includes maintaining existing agricultural and renewable energy uses.
“As with all the assets in our portfolio, we are keen to drive best value from the estate. This could include looking at a range of things, such as land improvement activities like installing new drainage systems to boost agricultural production, or assessing whether land might be available to help meet local housing need.”
Jon Storr, director of Alcan Farms Limited, said: “The sale to The Crown Estate ensures the land will continue to be managed and farmed to the highest standards into the future.
“Just as we did with the former smelter employees, we will provide the farm workforce with extensive practical support to help them take the next steps in their careers.”