Business owner ‘pleased’ after new lease agreement prevents farm closure

Chris Loughlin and the team at Leigh Court Farm. Picture: MARK ATHERTON

Chris Loughlin and the team at Leigh Court Farm. Picture: MARK ATHERTON - Credit: Archant

The future of an organic farm site has been secured for the next five years.

Bosses at Leigh Court Farm, in Abbots Leigh, have been growing vegetables on land which is owned by the National Trust since 2009.

The 10-acre site was put out to public tender by the trust, with a preference for applicants who are able to graze cattle.

But the farm's owner, Chris Loughlin, was able to agree a new five-year lease to prevent its closure.

The charity was keen to create a conservation and habitat development scheme on the land, in Leigh Woods, which the company uses to employ four full-time staff and grow 20 varieties for their vegetable box scheme.

Its previous five-year lease was due to expire next year, but now Chris will work towards achieving a high nature value status, where land provides a home for nature alongside food production.

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Chris said: "I am pleased with this outcome; while I wish this was handled better initially, the trust was unequivocal in its apology for its handling of the situation.

"I suspect it is difficult for a large organisation to change course like this, but in the end it did the right thing, which should be noted.

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"Everyone here at the farm has been deeply moved by the responses people sent to the trust regarding our plight and we couldn't thank them enough."

A petition to allow the farm to keep the lease received more than 1,000 signatures.

The trust had previously told the Times it wanted to make the land 'a sustainable proposition for farmers' and its proposal to go to public tender was a 'farming and conservation issue'.

A trust spokesman said: "As a nature conservation charity we're committed to looking after our special places.

"Having a good working relationship with our tenants and ensuring we find mutually beneficial ways forward which deliver high conservation and environmental standards at all our places is important to us.

"We're working out exactly what this looks like together, following a positive meeting with the tenants."

Leigh Court Farm will host an open day in late-summer where tea and cakes will be served, and a trust employee will be on hand to lead a walk around the site.

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