The High Peak area of Derbyshire forms a beautiful rugged landscape. Like so much of Britain’s uplands, it is countryside preserved and protected by the National Trust.
Many of the traditional stone cottages dotted across the hills are Trust owned, providing homes for some of its 6,500 tenants.
But according the the National Trust’s own tenants’ association, it too often fails in its basic duty as a landlord.
One of the cottages has been home to the Dean family since last year. Carl and Wendy Dean say moving to the picturesque property with their four children was a dream come true.
But in a few weeks, they will be required to pack up and move out.
It’s a bitter blow, especially after they’ve just spent £6,000 improving the property. They’ve fitted a new kitchen, new flooring and redecorated.
‘We are devastated’
No-one is saying the National Trust is breaking the law, or even the rules.
The Deans did only sign an initial six-month contract, which was renewed for a further six months – but they expected it to be extended again.
They say they were told by a National Trust representative that being able to stay long term was “standard practice” if they were good tenants – an assurance the Trust say was never made.
Standing in their front room Wendy is sobbing: “It’s appalling. We are devastated. It’s made me feel ill. We are not expecting them to change their minds. We know we are going but we don’t want this to happen to somebody else.”
Her husband says: “We are being moved out like you would move cattle around. They don’t care that we are a family, they’ve just said, ‘Right, your time is up.'”
“We stand behind our role as a professional and fair landlord. We are always striving to do better, of course, but with a track record of success”
Patrick BeggNational Trust rural enterprise director
The Tenants’ Association of the National Trust (TANT) says there are growing problems across the country, with their helpline taking calls about poor repairs, rising rents – and, increasingly, tenancy disputes.
Andrew Turner Cross is a long-time Trust tenant. He is also chairman of TANT.
“What we’re looking for is a fair deal for tenants, we’re getting all too many calls on our helpline to do with the same old problems – leases, repairs and rental increases… some of those cases are quite heartbreaking.”
Of course, thousands of tenants live happily in National Trust properties – the average length of tenure for tenants is nine-and-a-half years – and it says it simply doesn’t recognise reports of widespread discontent.
Clearly, caring for and maintaining old, sometimes ancient housing stock is difficult and costly.
Mary Marshall has been a Trust tenant in West Wycombe for more than two decades. She describes it as a first-class landlord.
And she says her fellow tenants should make allowances for the fact they live in such desirable properties.
“I think you have to accept that you are moving into a part of history,” she says.
“You are part of the history of the country and the buildings. And it is a privilege to live in a place like this. You need to accept that the Trust are doing everything in their power to conserve it.”
But the BBC has seen an internal report that suggests there is also some serious dissatisfaction
The survey – commissioned by the National Trust itself – concludes that although 72% of tenants are happy, there is a “disconnect between tenants’ and landlords’ expectations”.
It also says: “The National Trust falls short of the ‘special’ expectations of them but also of the basic expectations of a landlord.”
The National Trust’s rural enterprise director, Patrick Begg, says: “It’s not a damning indictment. I don’t think it’s universal, I think the vast majority of what we do, we get right, in places we don’t.
“I can’t say enough times, I don’t recognise that picture. We stand behind our role as a professional and fair landlord. We are always striving to do better, of course, but with a track record of success.”
But among the significant number of National Trust tenants who are unhappy is hill farmer Neil Priestly.
When land next to his existing National Trust farm came up for rent, he jumped at chance to grow his business, paying out thousands for sheep especially suited to this hard landscape
Again, he was on a fixed contract. Again, he says he was told it would be renewed after 12 months as a formality.
But the Trust denies this and now requires him to move on.
“If they’d come and from the start said this is what the plan is going to be, but a total lack of communication and a lack of regard for my own personal financial well being or anything like that, they’ve just ploughed on, on this road that they’ve set off down, with total disregard for local people,” he said.
The National Trust is among our best loved, best supported charities. The uncomfortable message from some of its tenants is that it is better at conserving buildings and landscapes than looking after the people who rely on it for their homes.
Source: BBC News