The future of a popular outdoor education centre has been thrown into doubt for a second time after a council announced it is to sever all links.
For almost 60 years, Northumberland County Council has leased the historic Ford Castle for use as a destination for school trips.
In 2011 the centre was closed as part of budget cutbacks but was able to re-open in April last year after the council linked up with Weardale based school trip provider Chateau Beaumont, a move thought to safeguard the centre for 20 years. But just 18 months on the council has given three years’ notice on the lease and the owners Ford & Etal Estates say it is too soon to say what will happen next.
The estate has also accused the council of failing to maintain the castle which was built in 1278, resulting in it being placed on the English Heritage “at risk” register in 2011.
The council has earmarked £8.3m in its budget for maintenance and repairs.
A council spokeswoman said: “The council has made every effort to retain a suitable use for the castle.
“But in facing unprecedented budget challenges we have had to make a difficult decision to reduce the financial impact for the future. We are giving notice on the lease but have earmarked budget for maintenance and repairs until the lease ends.”
However Lord Joicey, director and trustee of Ford & Etal Estates, said: “Whilst we appreciate that it is withdrawing from its lease as a result of necessary financial cuts, the council’s treatment and handling of this matter, and in particular its failure to liaise with us as landlords and to conclude arrangements with Chateau Beaumont Ltd. have been disjointed, not very professional and not consistent with standards of good practice.”
He added: “Despite having a special and long relationship with Northumberland County Council, Ford & Etal Estates have been disappointed to receive without forewarning a letter from solicitors acting for the council giving three years notice to terminate the council’s lease of Ford Castle.”
Nobody from Chateau Beaumont was available to comment.