One of the richest men in the North East has been dubbed ‘Scrooge McDuke’ after demanding exorbitant rent that could derail plans to reopen Northumberland Line rail service.
The Duke of Northumberland, Ralph Percy, is said to have charged a colossal rent of Â£ 600,000 a year for trains to pass through his vast estates.
As reported by The Mirror, lawyers for the 65-year-old man, who lives at Alnwick Castle, made famous by the Harry Potter films – are demanding annual rent on plans for the construction of the Northumberland Line, which will restart the passenger services from Ashington and Blyth to Newcastle.
Read more:Go here for more Northumberland news and updates live from Northumberland
Council chiefs say the new line will improve employment opportunities for isolated and disadvantaged communities. The Duke is worth around Â£ 445million.
A spokesperson for Duke’s Northumberland Estates said he supported the plans, but that there was a “separate and long-standing conflict with Network Rail”.
The railroad tracks that run through land owned by Northumberland Estates, the company that manages the Duke’s vast 130,000 acres in the northeast, operate under old “wayleave” rules – contracts between a landowner and a third parties that allow construction or access in exchange for money.
Richard Turney, representing Northumberland County Council, said at a meeting: âThe licensing leases contain archaic rent provisions and are based on the original primary purpose of the railway, which is to serve the coal mines.
“These provisions are completely antithetical to the operation of a railway, in fact the provisions of the passage permit have proved to be very controversial.
“This has resulted in the Duke of Northumberland twice threatening to end passage permits in a rent dispute, including after that claim was filed, with an extraordinary demand of over Â£ 600,000 for rent.
“Provisions which give an individual such a stranglehold on public resources are inappropriate.”
Residents and business leaders in Ashington and Blyth have lambasted the Duke for risking the future of the line.
Business manager Stephen Rowe, 45, said: “Ashington and Blyth are both within 20 miles of Newcastle, but the only way to get there is by car or an hour by bus. The towns are two. of the poorest in the region and many people simply cannot afford a car.
âA train line would transform the neighborhood because people could easily travel to Newcastle for work. People’s homes would also rise in value.
“For the Duke to expect more than half a million rents each year is an absolute disgrace. It is money-grabbing, plain and simple.”
Angela Whyte, 30, a Blyth resident and mother of two, said: “He’s probably never even been here, but by a strange birth accident he owns the land where the train will be built. He’s already nicknamed Scrooge McDuke by people here and you can see why.
âHe’s probably just sitting in his big castle counting his money while the rest of us try to make the most of what we have.
âThe Northumberland Line, formerly known as the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne Line, was closed to passenger services in the 1960s as part of the Beeching cuts.
A spokesperson for Duke’s Northumberland Estates insisted it supported the project, but had a “long-standing dispute” with Network Rail. “We support and have always fully supported the project and have already agreed on access and new facilities with the county council,” he added.
âUnfortunately, we have a separate and long-standing dispute with Network Rail, which attempts to claim private property rights without proper consultation and compensation.
“This disagreement concerns only Network Rail, which has been uncompromising for decades, and is the only point of contention for us.”
For the latest Northumberland news delivered straight to your inbox every day, go here to sign up for our free newsletter