Could land covenant save under-threat Serpentine Community Farm?

High Peak Borough Council said it was "aware of the restrictive covenant on the former Serpentine depot".
High Peak Borough Council said it was "aware of the restrictive covenant on the former Serpentine depot".

Campaigners fighting to save Buxton’s Serpentine Community Farm say a covenant from the Duke of Devonshire could block future development.

The documents, dating back to March 1890, make reference to the land ‘for ever hereafter appropriate use and maintain the same as and for an ornamental garden and nursery grounds only and for no other purpose whatsoever’.

In October, High Peak Borough Council revealed it was potentially looking to reclaim the former plant nursery at Serpentine Walks for housing.
However, campaigners say the covenant states that without permission from the Duke or his heirs, no buildings ‘other than greenhouses or other buildings to be used for horticultural purposes’ can be built on the land.

Serpentine Farm director Madeline Hall said: “We can’t do everything and it’s frustrating having to spend time on campaigning that would be better spent on growing plants and people.

“We are a small organisation. With sterling support from Buxton Civic Association, Transition Buxton, local organisations and friends across High Peak we are maintaining farm activity, playing catch up with plant propagation now that spring is finally here, opening two days a week, participating in local and national initiatives.”

A spokesman for High Peak Borough Council said: “The council is aware of the restrictive covenant on the former Serpentine depot.

“The matter will be dealt with as part of the consideration of any planning application for the redevelopment of the land concerned.”

However, members who want to keep the farm open say given that the land was granted with strict provisos to benefit Buxton, uncovering the covenant also raises a question about profits made on the sale of Serpentine House to a developer in 2014.

Madeline said: “Should the cash windfall to the borough council have been earmarked for investment benefiting horticulture in the Pavilion Gardens and Serpentine Walks?”

The key question now is what happens next, say the campaigners who recently submitted a 1,000-strong petition to the council.

Madeline said she felt the only options were for the council to persuade the current Duke to break the promise of protection made by his ancestor, make a case to the Land Tribunal that the covenant is obsolete, sell the land without planning permission to a developer or leave it for the community use “like it was intended 128 years ago and let the farm flourish”.