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Tuesday, 21 October 2014

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Sale of Lake District mountain on course, says owner

The sale of the iconic Cumbrian mountain Blencathra to an undisclosed buyer is “on course”, says the aristocrat who put it on the market.

 Earl of Lonsdale photo
Earl of Lonsdale

The Earl of Lonsdale, Hugh Lowther, is selling the mountain – which is also known as Saddleback – to help pay off a £9 million inheritance tax bill incurred following the death of his late father, the Seventh Earl.

Campaigners who want to keep the mountain out of private hands say they still hope to buy it, or at least work with whoever becomes the new owner.

In his first interview since the sealed ballot to decide the first-choice buyer, the current Earl spoke of the mountain’s reserves of lead – though it is understood no mineral rights are included in the sale relating to the mountain’s five dormant lead mines.

He also gave the strongest hint yet that the buyer whose offer is now being scrutinised is not from the UK.

The Earl said: “Everything is still on course.

“We are just going through the normal procedures that are involved when you buy and sell property, but I can’t give any idea of how long it will take. It’s like that because we are dealing with foreign solicitors, so it is taking a little while.

“What I can say is that the buyer is not a Russian and not a Chinese person.

“People can speculate to their heart’s content, and I know we are under a great deal of pressure from the Friends of Blencathra, who are trying to push the issue, but it will get them absolutely nowhere.”

“There are three or four or five other people in front of the Friends and we have to exhaust them first.”

The Earl said the 2,848ft fell has in the past been recognised as a source of tungsten – used to make steel harder.

But he explained “In World War Two the Canadians went in and took over the mines to extract tungsten...

“But I can’t see any threat and everything will be exactly as it was before.”

Before being hit by death duties, said the Earl, he considered reinstating a hydroelectricity scheme involving dams near to the Blencathra hunt kennels – a scheme with sufficient potential to provide power to all of Threlkeld.

He said the decision to dispose of the fell was ultimately the result of the Government’s policy on inheritance tax, imposed at 40 per cent rate on any property once its value passed a £325,000 threshold.

“If people want to blame anybody blame the Government,” he said. “We have been custodians of land and property but the law as it stands is disgusting: it no longer just affects a small minority.

“But it [the sale] is in the pipeline now and it’s just going through due process.

“If the person at the top of the pile pulls out and gives back word then we will move on to the second, or third, or fourth. At the end of the day, if some other commodity came up I might just withdraw.”

Debbie Cosgrove, from Friends of Blencathra, said the group, which is being widely backed by the likes of mountaineer Sir Chris Bonington and Cumbria Tourism, is continuing to communicate with the trustees of the Lonsdale Estate, who she said had requested a resumption of discussions.

“They’re the ones who had said they want a resumption of discussions so I presume we are still in the running for it,” she told The Cumberland News.

“With the mountain having being registered as a community asset, we would have to be notified if somebody was about to purchase it.”

She declined to say how much the Friends’ campaign had raised towards the mountain’s £1.75m asking price, saying the group’s QC, whose name has also not been revealed, had advised that it was commercially sensitive.

If the group cannot buy the mountain it would be keen to work with the new owner to ensure necessary footpath repairs are done – using volunteers who have the expertise and willingness to help.

The group has also spoken to members of the Fix the Fells group and talked to the Environment Agency about the impact of past mining works on the mountain.

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