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Exclusive - The nation's last remaining example of medieval farming is to be sold




A NATIONAL treasure, the nation's last working feudal village, is being put up for sale.

The Advertiser revealed back in January the Crown Estate's acceptance it may not be the best owner for the Laxton Estate, which has operated an open field system and Court Leet, a farming practice common-place throughout the country since medieval times, but now the last existing working example, and, this week, it confirmed it was for sale.

“The Laxton estate is a unique asset that preserves an important part of Britain’s agricultural heritage," a spokesman for the Crown Estate said.

"As a commercial real estate business, we recognise we may not be best placed to manage the estate moving forwards and have therefore reached a decision to sell. In doing so, our focus will be on finding an appropriate purchaser who values Laxton’s unique role and history and who is fully committed to preserving it for the future.

"As we progress our work to find a suitable owner for the estate, we’ll continue to work closely with local tenants and interested stakeholders, to keep them informed.”

One leading academic, argues the Laxton system is so special that it deserves the same level of protection, UNESCO, as world heritage sites such as Stonehenge or the Great Pyramids.

Such is the significance of Laxton, doubts over its future were brought to the attention of the Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, by the MP for Newark, Robert Jenrick.

The Crown Estate has owned the Laxton Estate since 1981, giving a Parliamentary undertaking at that time to support the Open Field System.

Laxton has a series of open, unhedged fields divided into lengths known as furlongs, which are sub-divided into flatts.

Farmers own flatts in various furlongs in each field, which are policed annually by a jury to ensure farmers are not encroaching on each other’s land.

Laxton Court Leet ­— the only court of its kind in the world ­— enforces farming rules dating back to Medieval times.

The estate goes up for sale on October 19 and a brochure will be produced and made available to interested parties. The asking price is not yet known.

The chairman of Laxton and Moorhouse Parish Council, Mr Mike Manning, who has lived in Laxton since 1973 and is also a trustee of the Laxton Visitor Centre, said the council was informed by email at 5.30pm yesterday.

It was the parish council's disquiet about the way the estate was being managed that is said to have tipped the Crown Estate's hand.

"In May of last year were concerned the open field system wasn't being managed correctly and there seemed intent to break up the farms," said Mr Manning.

"They moved a commuter rather than a farmer into one of the farmhouses and re-allocated the strips and then made further rental gain by selling the outbuildings to livery.

"None of that smacked of preserving the farming system as we know it that has existed since medieval times.

"Whoever buys the estate will be taking on a huge amount of work.

"It needs to be someone who isn't interested in its financial value, but in maintaining it forever.

"We understand there will be a covenant saying that the open field system must be protected and maintained in perpetuity, which is a good thing, and also that the sale won't necessarily be to the highest bidder, but the most appropriate.

"What we have here is a national heritage asset after all."

In his email to the parish council, Iain Mills, senior asset manager with the Crown Estate, wrote: "To ensure we find the right owner for this important heritage estate, we will be requiring the successful purchaser to clearly demonstrate the same intention to perpetually maintain the open field system through a positive relationship with present and future tenants and other local stakeholders.

"In addition, ideally a capacity in both organisational and financial respects to positively manage the estate in the long term must be shown and the purchaser should ideally demonstrate a track record of having successfully delivered sensitive management of the historic landscape and farmed environment at a comparable scale and complexity.

"We will be marketing the estate over the next two months and this activity will be led by our managing agents Carter Jonas and for your information I will forward a copy of the marketing brochure when it is available. We hope to be in a position to shortlist potential purchasers by the end of the year. At which point, I will be able to update you further on this activity."

A potential rescue package has been drawn up by the chairman of the trustees of Laxton Visitor Centre, Sir John Starkey, with the support of the parish council.

It would see the village itself take control.

Sir John says sustainable agriculture would underpin British agricultural policy post-Brexit, and Laxton, with its history, offered huge potential.

About a third of Laxton's population is understood to be linked to The Crown Estate, either owning or working a rented farm or living in a tied property.

Fourteen of 15 farms are said to be in Crown ownership.

Laxton’s farms are small by today’s standards at around 120 to 140 acres.

In the 1950s, when ownership passed from Earl Manvers to the Department of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, farms of that size were more common ­— and profitable.

Today, however, the yield from the farms is roughly the same as it was then. They cannot compete with bigger arable farms and struggle to make enough to pay the rents on the farmhouses that accompany the land.

The Crown Estate is a real estate business specialising in commercial property in central London, prime regional retail and offshore wind. It also has a substantial rural and coastal portfolio and manages the seabed around England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Established by an Act of Parliament, as an independent commercial business, it returns 100% of its annual profits to the Treasury for the benefit of the public finances. This has totalled £2.7bn over the last ten years.



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