Blencathra: 'still up for sale'

Blencathra: 'still up for sale'

A community group trying to buy a Lake District mountain insists it is still in negotiations to take over the property.

Confusion has surrounded the fate of Blencathra after agents told journalists last November that the land had been taken off the market.

The Friends of Blencathra was set up shortly after the original announcement that the mountain would be sold off to raise cash to pay an inheritance tax bill following the death of its owner the Earl of Lonsdale.

Speculation has been rife about the fate of the Lake District fell, described by author Alfred Wainwright as ‘the mountaineers’ mountain’.

The Friends released a statement at the weekend saying it was still trying to buy Blencathra and was the vendor’s preferred choice to take over ownership.

The group said: “The tale involving the charity is an extraordinary one. The Blencathra mountain, about 2,000 acres, was brought to the market on 5 May 2014 with a tight time scale for sealed bids and a guide price of £1.75m.

“The vendor’s intention – the estate of the late Earl of Lonsdale – was to pay off an inheritance tax debt using the sale proceeds.

“Once aware of the proposed sale, and with the idea of the Big Society planted in their minds, a group of local people decided to try to secure ownership of the mountain for the public benefit. Their fear was that the mountain might otherwise be bought by unsympathetic private interests.”

The Friends said a QC, Janet Turner, of Berwin, Leighton Paisner volunteered her help and, at her suggestion, she was joined by Michael Fiddes of Strutt & Parker in offering their expertise to the charity.

In June 2014, with Ms Turner’s help, the charity succeeded in registering the mountain as a community asset under the Localism Act.

The Friends raised several hundred thousand pounds in a few weeks with donations from the public but also secured a major pledge from the company that owns the Berghaus outdoor brand.

The group’s statement said: “It put in a sealed bid on 1 July 2014 based on professional advice as to valuation. The amount offered included an anticipated grant of £500,000 from the Community Asset capital grant scheme phase due to close at the end of July 2014. The latter grant opportunity was lost as the charity’s offer was not accepted in time.

“The charity has maintained constant contact with the vendor’s lawyers over the last 18 months. The decision-making process on the vendor’s side has been a long and complicated one.

“However the position is as follows: the mountain has not been sold to other bidders; the vendor is committed to the sale of the mountain; the vendor would prefer to sell to the charity provided that acceptable terms can be agreed.

“To that end the charity submitted a revised draft contract of sale to the vendor in November 2015. Today, the terms of that deal remain under discussion between the parties.”

The Friends of Blencathra added that the bid details are confidential. They also said the funds raised so far had to be used for the potential purchase of Blencathra and could not be diverted to help Cumbria flood victims.

“While the charity has every sympathy with those affected by the terrible recent local floods, it is constrained in its expenditure of those funds,” they said.

“The trustee directors have been advised, and accept, that the charity’s funds cannot be spent on flood relief.”

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