28 August 1998

Battle follows claim of broken promises over dream farm

By Catherine Hughes

A COUPLE who moved to Surrey seven years ago, taking on what they thought was their dream farm, are now locked in battle with the local council over what they claim is a string of broken promises.

Bob and Margaret Dearnley took over the tenancy of the 31ha (76-acre) Burpham Court Farm Park, north of Guildford, after seeing it advertised as an organic farm with rare breeds and public access. Guildford Borough Council also promised that £150,000 would be spent on helping it become a viable unit.

But trouble started within months when articulated trucks rolled through the yard, cracking concrete and buckling latches on pigsty doors, to build a bridge connecting both sides of the farm. The work cost £87,000 and involved 100 people, claimed Mr Dearnley.

"It certainly was not the bridge we had expected," he said. "And there was no negotiation over the construction between us and the council."

With most of the budget spent on what looked like a motorway bridge, spanning a stream, and another £5000 spent on rabbit control, it meant that money for the necessary improvements to make the farm viable was soon drying up.

On top of that, Mr Dearnley is now convinced that a council-owned landfill site, located next to the farm, is the cause of a number of defects in his sheep. Although his vet could not confirm that there was a link, the Dearnleys have had 15 birth defects in their Texel lambs since 1992.

"Our land is contaminated," said Mr Dearnley. "The council are not even acknowledging it, and they are demanding more rent. We have come here under false pretences. The farm is unworkable and the money has all gone."

The Environment Agency has asked the council to review the way it monitors the groundwater. A spokeswoman said there was, at this stage, no evidence to suggest any link between the site and the birth defects.

Council representative Richard Linguard dismissed the Dearnleys concerns. The council had been entirely committed to the success of the farm. He accepted that the bridge was heavier duty than may have been required. But the couple had received more help than they were acknowledging, he said. &#42

Farming in Surrey has been a disaster for the Dearnley family.