Queen's estate 'putting profit before country'

Villagers up in arms over Duchy plan to build thousands of new homes on green-belt land

Villagers in a small, rural community have accused the Queen's private estate of putting their village and the livelihoods of local farmers under threat with a controversial plan to build thousands of houses on green-belt land.

Residents in Barthomley, Cheshire, say that a Duchy of Lancaster plan to build up to 4,000 new houses on its Crewe Estate would "destroy the village" and risked putting profit before preserving the countryside.

The 600-acre development proposal would see the construction of a new "employment destination" centred on a "network" of three new villages. The proposal includes an option to "release" several hundred acres of green -belt land to the east of Crewe.

The Duchy's Crewe Estate includes 15 farms held by tenant farmers, often kept within the same family for generations. Eight farms could be "erased" by the development, depriving farmers of their livelihoods, local activists say.

John Porter, 35, a tenant on the estate whose family have farmed the same land for three generations, said the Duchy was "selling out to the highest bidder".

"We've been long-term tenants. We and two other tenants have been put on notice or had the length of our tenancies shortened," he said. "A lot of relationships between the Duchy and their tenants have broken down.

"The Duchy used to behave like a parent and now they act more like a pimp. We're always told that the Queen is supposed to care about her tenants."

The Duchy said that the proposals were in their "very early days" and pledged to privately discuss "the implications" of the developments with its tenants "well before anything is finalised".

The Duchy of Lancaster, which saw its value increase to £400m this year, is the custodian of 18,200 hectares of land held in trust on behalf of the Queen. It provides the Queen with her private income and funds the official activities of other members of the Royal family. The Queen's own official duties are paid for by £32.3m of taxpayers' money.

Local residents have formed an action group to fight the proposals, which they say would create an urban sprawl from Crewe in the west to Alsager in the east, tarmacking over prime rural land that is used for agriculture and as breathing space for thousands of people from nearby Stoke-on-Trent.

"The development would destroy the village," said Viv Belcher, 55, chair of the Barthomley Action Group.

"On one side we will have the industrial site and on the other side thousands of houses.

"We will have much more traffic in the country lanes and gridlock in the centre of the village."

Barthomley, the site of an 11th century church and home to the award-winning White Lion Inn, is a popular visitor destination.

"People come from outside to visit the pub, cycle and horse ride in the country lanes," Ms Belcher said. "There is a bowling club and footpaths across the field – all of that would disappear."

She added: "The Duchy seems far more interested in profit these days than it does in preserving the countryside. We expect them to sell the land to developers – they will be able to sell green-belt land at a premium."

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