Northumberland farming estate tenants voice fears for homes

Private tenants on a Northumberland farming estate which has been sold last night spoke of their fears at being forced from their homes

Hazel and Erik Sommerfeld
Hazel and Erik Sommerfeld

Private tenants on a Northumberland farming estate which has been sold last night spoke of their fears at being forced from their homes.

As reported in yesterday’s Journal, Rio Tinto Alcan has sold its 4,500 acre Alcan Farms agricultural land portfolio, linked to the company’s mothballed aluminium smelter, to The Queen’s property company, The Crown Estate.

The 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.

Rio Tinto’s eight remaining farm workers have been made redundant.

Last night, private tenants at two of the 19 homes told of their uncertainty at whether they would be able to remain in their homes, and if so, whether there would be any effect on their rent.

Josephine Tipple, 67, has lived at her home on East Moor Farm at Ellington for 42 years.

She lived there with husband Billy, who worked on the farm for 25 years - starting before it was taken over by Alcan, and was allowed to remain in the cottage after his death 19 years ago.

Mrs Tipple, who lives with her 19-year-old unemployed grandson Andrew, said: “I have lived here 42 years and I am a bit gutted about it.

“I do not know how much longer I will be able to live here.

“I was hoping to go out of here in a box but things change, these things happen.

“I think the biggest uncertainty as well if we are allowed to stay, are they going to put the rents up?

“It is just all a bit sad because we have been a nice little community for a long time and we do not know what is going to happen.

“Bearing in my mind my husband died while we lived in this house, it has got a lot of memories.

“All he ever did was farmwork.”

Neighbour Hazel Sommerfeld, 42, has been a tenant at the farm since May last year, with husband Eric, 51, a healthcare assistant at Wansbeck General Hospital at Ashington, and son Reece, nine, a pupil at Cleaswell Hill special school at Choppington, for whom she is full-time carer.

She said: “It is a good thing that the land has been sold but it is the uncertainty of what they are going to do with the farm and the tenancy.

“It is a lovely place to live. We have eventually got settled somewhere we are happy and we do not want to leave it unless we have to.”

Last night, the Crown Estate told The Journal residents would be able to stay in their homes.

A spokesperson said: “The existing terms of current agreements with tenants will transfer.

“We will be contacting tenants in the coming weeks and we will be happy to answer any questions or queries they may have.”

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.

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.”

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