Walkers on Blencathra

Walkers on Blencathra

A community group bidding to buy a Lake District mountain said it was business as usual and they believe negations are still continuing despite the owner saying it had been sold.

Agents acting for Blencathra’s owner the Earl of Lonsdale said on Friday it had sold the estate to an unnamed buyer.

But the Friends of Blencathra said they were shocked by reports of the sale.

The Friends’ chair Debbie Cosgrove said: “This announcement has yet to be confirmed to us or to our legal representatives by the agents acting for the Lonsdale Estate.

“Until then, we are still campaigning and still going strong. As far as we are concerned, negotiations are still open.”

She said that the group’s representatives offered to match one particular bid on Friday and understood this was being looked upon favourably.

The Friends of Blencathra said their initial bid was based on their fundraising activities, and as a charity, they were not allowed to pay over the market value. Their bid was prepared with assistance from leading firms of land agents and lawyers, who have been working behind the scenes, a spokesperson said.

Treasurer David Farrar said: “For the moment, for Friends of Blencathra it is business as usual. We have yet to be formally advised that negotiations are over.

“We continue to fundraise, to strengthen our position, and new members are still joining us. Whatever the outcome of the next few days may be, we are a group of people who care passionately about Blencathra and the future.

“We are continuing with our application to have Blencathra listed as a community asset.”

Eden District Council is due to hear the application under the Localism Act, which allows authorities to register properties as assets of community value.

But Government guidance says: “The scheme does not give first refusal to the community group, unlike the equivalent scheme in Scotland; and it is not a community right to buy the asset, just to bid. This means that the local community bid may not be the successful one.”

 Sir Chris Bonington supports the Friends campaign to buy the mountain

Sir Chris Bonington supports the Friends campaign to buy the mountain

Ms Cosgrove said: “So much has been achieved in just a few weeks, and the level of support and commitment shown has been phenomenal.

“There are avenues still being explored, and there may well be opportunities that are not yet even apparent. We are asking all of our supporters to stand firm with us.”

Group secretary Karen Clough added: “Remember that this campaign has brought together a diverse collection of individuals with their own very personal reasons for being here, and fused them into an exceptional force to be reckoned with.

“We are focussing our efforts on finding the way forward.”

Lord Lonsdale put the 868m (2,848ft) mountain and surrounding land to help pay off an inheritance tax bill believed to be about £9m. The guide price for the fell was £2.1m but agents H&H Land and Property said on Friday: “We confirm that our client Lonsdale Settled Estate has instructed us to accept an offer which exceeds the guide price, for Blencathra mountain.

“Prior to reaching this decision we had discussions earlier today with representatives from the Friends of Blencathra.

“We have taken into account both their offer and the fact that there is a significant shortfall between this and the successful offer.”

The agents also said they believed the provisions of the Localism Act did not apply to the Blencathra sale. They said: “The sellers have taken legal advice and are submitting representations to Eden District Council regarding the listing application.

“These representations include the sellers’ view that, notwithstanding any listing of Blencathra as an asset of community value, the sale can proceed as scheduled and without any need to notify the council, or to observe the six-month moratorium on sale, due to the exemption in the Localism Act 2011 because the sellers are personal representatives selling in order to pay a tax liability.”

Blencathra, also known as Saddleback, was described by guidebook author Alfred Wainwright as ‘the mountaineers’ mountain’. Its ascent routes include Hall’s Fell Ridge and the difficult grade-one scramble Sharp Edge, which has been the scene of several fatalities over the years.

Most of the fell is open access land under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, meaning walkers have the right to roam, subject to some restrictions.

It is also common land, with commoners having the right to graze 5,471 ewes, 202 shearlings, 732 hoggs and 200 lambs.

Mountaineering elder statesman Sir Chris Bonington lent his support to the Friends and joined their walk from Keswick to Threlkeld on Wednesday. Outdoor brand Berghaus, of which Sir Chris is chairman, also offered financial support to the group.

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