Answers to Lord Mayor’s Field sale provoke more questions
Was the Lord Mayor’s Field sold off to plug Advance Northumberland’s debts? Could it now become an extension for the Amble Links caravan park? The sale of the Lord Mayor’s Field (LMF) has continued to draw questions, despite efforts to quell concerns.
News that the long standing public open space had been sold off in 2022 alongside the Amble Links caravan park land, drew anger from residents who felt the public should have been informed at the time.
Cllr Jeff Watson (Amble West with Warkworth and chair of Advance Northumberland at the time of the sale) told The Ambler: “There hasn’t been any change in the conditions from when the land was leased to Park Leisure and when it was sold. There was no need to consult the public as Advance doesn’t generally consult when they sell land. I want to reassure people that the people of Amble will always have access to the LMF.”
Later, in a joint statement Advance Northumberland and Northumberland County Council (NCC) responded to fears that the LMF could be fenced off from members of the public, or possibly developed in the near future. They noted two conditions which had been placed on the sale of the land:
• To restrict future development potential so that the site remains a caravan park, that no part of the site, (including the area of land known as the LMF), could be developed for residential purposes, until 2032, without the consent of Advance Northumberland, unless the owner can demonstrate to Advance Northumberland’s reasonable satisfaction that the site is no longer economically viable as a holiday park;
• To ensure that members of the public continue to have access to the site’s swimming pool as has been the case during Advance Northumberland’s [and the Council’s prior] ownership, that the owner of the site entered a contract with NCC to maintain public access, for the same rates as the Council usually charge, unless it becomes uneconomic to keep the pool open.
It continued: “These conditions will remain in force, even if there were a change of site owner.”
Why was the LMF sold?
The statement has prompted more questions, not least what would happen after 2032, or if the owners were to show financial need to expand onto the LMF. Possibly the biggest question remains; given its history as public open land, why was it sold at all?
Despite being deemed by NCC to have no commercial value, the LMF has been bundled together with the caravan park in leases since 2002. By 2013, the site rent income proved so lucrative for NCC, they used it to help offset the cost of running ‘poorer quality’ industrial estates. However, in recent years, Park Leisure made Advance at least three offers for both pieces of land.
In documents seen by The Ambler, an initial proposal in 2020 was for Advance to sell the caravan site land to Park Leisure for £8.25m, and lease the LMF for £150,000 pa for a 20 year period. This would have yielded at least £3m in rent, but by 2021 Advance agreed instead to sell the LMF for £2m. Together with the caravan park, this brought the total to £10.25m.
Explaining their decision, Advance stated that the sale would mean they would not have to worry about potential defaults on rent, and it would provide a cash buffer which could be utilised to repay debt.
A last, but no less significant question: why would Park Leisure, who were about to be bought out by an American investment trust, spend £2m on land and not use it?
The Ambler asked NCC if the owners could now use the LMF for additional caravan or lodge space, and if so, would the public have right of access onto the land.
A spokesperson told us: “They would need planning permission, and the land is permanently and formally designated Open Space in the Statutory Development Plan.”
They added, “public access could be maintained via appropriate design and Planning Conditions/legal agreements attached to any planning permission.”