Cash row could scupper Coastguard move

A DISPUTE over compensation payments could scupper plans to revitalise Coastguard cover in north Northumberland, if an agreement can’t be reached between a power company and local tenant farmers by the New Year.

Plans for a new station were approved by Northumberland County Council in 2010, after land at Windyside Hill, Dunstan, was gifted to the life-saving service by Lord Howick. The aim was to merge the out-of-date facilities at Craster and Boulmer on the new site, to be called Dunstanburgh Coastguard Rescue Station, improving the efficiency of emergency cover for the sector.

But an ongoing wrangle between Northern Powergrid – formerly NEDL – and neighbouring tenants, over compensation payments for the disruption caused by the proposed laying of underground cables, has halted the work.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) has now warned that funding for the project will likely be withdrawn if a solution isn’t found by December 31, because the budgeted costs can’t be carried forward to the next financial year.

Mike Bill, coastal safety manager for the MCA based at Humberside, said: “The search for a decent property has been going on for well over 15 years. We normally look for premises which are already built, but this has been particularly difficult in this part of Northumberland.

“The only option we had left was to find a suitable plot of land to build a new station on. Fortunately, Lord Howick came up with an offer for a site near Dunstan and we managed to get planning permission. Since then, however, there has been a lot of to-and-fro between the power company and the agent acting for the tenant farmers.

“Since February of this year, attempts have been made to negotiate, but so far they have failed to reach an agreement on the level of compensatory payment.

“If an agreement can’t be reached by December 31, we will not be able to proceed as funding will no longer be available in the next financial year.”

But George F White, acting as the agent for a number of tenant farmers, said Northern Powergrid had failed to offer any compensation for the disruption the land-holders would experience and costs they would incur during the laying of cables.

“At a very early stage, we agreed the wayleave payment, but it would seem that Northern Powergrid does not want to pay for any loss caused by surface damage, which is not acceptable.

“It is standard practice that when land is disturbed like this, they recompense the occupier. This all lies squarely with Northern Powergrid. You can’t expect the tenants to subsidise this development.”

Mr White said the power company had been asked to return the wayleave agreement, which it did, but nothing had been heard from them since the end of August.

A spokeswoman for Northern Powergrid said: “We received a request to underground overhead lines in Craster from the Maritime Coastal Agency, to allow for the establishment of their new coastguard station to commence safely.

“Unfortunately, we have been unable to obtain agreement from third parties involved in the proposal under our normal terms and conditions.

“However, we are happy to have further dialogue with all parties involved to ensure the issue can be resolved in line with our normal practices.”