Duke slashes farm rents to ease rural crisis

THE Duke of Northumberland has cut the rent of 200 tenant farmers by ten per cent to help combat the effects of the crisis in farming.

Letters went out to Northumberland Estates tenants at the weekend giving details of the rent reduction and of a new retirement scheme.

The Duke of Northumberland said: "Northumberland Estates has been monitoring the situation in the agricultural sector for a long time.

"A ten per cent reduction in rent will, we hope, go some way towards helping them through this very difficult time in farming.

"We are consciously trying to encourage our tenants to look at diversification projects which we will assist with.

"We have also implemented a retirement scheme for tenant farmers."

Retirement options have been put in place for farmers who now want to get out of the business.

A spokesman for the Estates explained that many farmers now feel they have no way out of farming.

The spokesman said: "Many of our farmers have been left feeling trapped. Whether they don't have a son or daughter to take over from them or their children just aren't interested.

"A number of tenants have taken up our retirement scheme. One has got a house for life to live in and others have got a cash lump sum.

"We are trying to allow people who have perhaps spent their life in the industry, a dignified way out of farming."

Under the agreement rents will be cut for the next three years and the situation will be reviewed after that.

The last rent review was in 1999 when the Estates put up rent charges.

Northumberland Estates has denied that this decision to cut rents is in any way connected with the Duke's decision to sell off Raphael's Madonna of the Pinks for 35 million.

The spokesman said: "The decision to reduce the rents was taken a long time ago and follows the devastating affects of last year's foot and mouth epidemic.

"It just so happens that the notification only went out to the tenants recently."

Following the 1999 rent review, five farmers took the Duke to arbitration over the increase, but they will not be affected by the ten per cent cut.

The spokesman said: "Because of foot and mouth last year we are still waiting for the arbitrator's decision and therefore those five farmers will not be affected by this new review."