Governors fight for ownership of Haydon Bridge school farm

Haydon Bridge school governors are in a dispute with Northumberland County Council over who owns a farm where pupils have had lessons since WWII

Haydon Bridge High School in Northumberland

Governors at a rural school have asked an education watchdog to make an official ruling on a dispute over who owns an adjoining farm where pupils have had lessons for decades.

Students at Haydon Bridge High in Northumberland have used Waite Farm - which is part of the school site - as an educational resource dating back to the end of World War Two.

When the school took on greater independence by becoming a trust five years ago, governors expected that the farm would be transferred to the new trust along with other assets.

But Northumberland County Council took a different view, and negotiations have gone on since then on attempts by the governors to secure the farm as a charitable asset.

Now the talks have reached stalemate and governors have applied to the Office of the Schools Adjudicator to make a decision on the proposed transfer. An independent adjudicator will be appointed to hear evidence from all parties, and then make a ruling on the farm’s ownership.

The matter has come to a head after the council decided to put part of Waite Farm on the market, and For Sale signs went up.

Now Hexham MP Guy Opperman has become involved, claiming it would be “an act of vandalism” for the council to sell the farm.

Waite Farm is run by tenant farmer Peter Telfer, who has an arrangement with the school governors allowing students to use it for lessons as part of the curriculum.

Yesterday Ed Brown, chairman of the school governors, said it had been hoped to resolve the farm transfer issue without the need for independent adjudication, but this had proved impossible.

He said: “When we became a trust school in 2008 the farm should have been transferred to the trust along with other assets and land. We use it to deliver many of our courses and expected it to be transferred to us as part of the trust formation.

“It came as a bit of a surprise to us when the farm was put up for sale. For the long-term benefit of our pupils we need to ensure that education continues to be delivered there.

“The county council view seems to be that the farm was not part of the school, but as governors we say it has been associated with the school back to World War 11.

“This is all about securing the farm for the future education of pupils. It is a unique asset in the county and farming families have sent their children to this school for decades because of that.”

Mr Opperman claimed the council gave an assurance in summer 2009 that it had no plans to sell the farm and is seeking a guarantee that it won’t be put on the market.

Mr Telfer said: “The farm is owned by the county council and as part of my tenancy agreement I have to allow the schoolchildren access to it for agriculture and other lessons.

“The council has asked me if I would be interested in buying the farm and I have told them I am. If I can’t buy it then I just want to stay as tenant for as long as I can. It now looks as though the governors are trying to claim it as an asset by saying it belongs to them.”

A council spokeswoman said: ”This matter has been referred by the high school to the Department for Education schools adjudicator. They are currently considering the matter and it would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage.”

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