High Peak council scraps plan to sell Buxton community farm

Serpentine Community Farm director Madeline Hall.
Serpentine Community Farm director Madeline Hall.

Campaigners fighting to save a Buxton community farm are feeling overjoyed today, after High Peak Borough Council scrapped plans to sell the land.

The council met with farm director Madeline Hall and Mike Monaghan of Buxton Civic Association on Thursday, July 19, and delivered the news.

Madeline said: “We went to the meeting with no great hopes, having fought this for 13 months, so it was a remarkable surprise. It’s exceptionally good news. It’s a dramatic turnaround but a very welcome one indeed.

“It has come very late, but credit where its due to the council for recognising the farm’s value to the community.

The council had notified the farm group of its intention to sell the site for housing last year, and ordered them to vacate the site earlier this month, but they will now be allowed to stay on site until December 2019 with an option to buy the property outright.

Council leader Tony Ashton, said: “By carefully managing the disposal of some of our assets, we’re now in the position of being less pressed to maximise our income from the site through housing development.

“It will still be necessary to raise a cash value from the site if at all possible and we’re talking to the farm volunteers about the possibility of them buying it.”

He added: “It is regarded as being of benefit to the community we may be able to offer it to them at a substantially discounted price given that there is now less need for the council to maximise the return.

“We realise they couldn’t possibly raise the necessary cash overnight and that they will need some time to raise the funds. For now, I have instructed that the work that was underway on preparing for the development of the site should be suspended while negotiations are ongoing.”

The council’s change of heart may also owe something to the weight of opinion which had built up in support of saving the farm, with MP Ruth George presenting a petition of 1,244 signatures to Parliament earlier this week.

She said: “I’m absolutely delighted the council have changed their minds. Congratulations to all who have worked so hard on the farm and campaigned for it.”

Madeline and the other farm directors must now begin the process of seeking funds to buy the land and putting a business plan into action to increase income.

Madeline said: “We’ve been fighting a rearguard action for the last year, but must now shift gear very quickly to put us in a more powerful position for the long-term.

“An enormous thank you to everyone who has contributed to the campaign. Their voices have finally been heard and we are inordinately pleased.”

She added: “There has been a huge sense of solidarity and support which we have drawn on, but we now need practical support as well.

“As we’ve been telling our story, more and more people have been attracted to working with us, but we still need more volunteers to work on the farm, and others who are interested in growing things in their own gardens and allotments across the High Peak.

“We already have links with nurseries, schools, the college and university, plus mental health services and Jobcentre Plus. We will look to restart all of those, but on a much bigger scale.”

For more details on the farm and volunteering opportunities, go to www.serpentinecommunityfarm.org.