IT was described as an ambitious scheme to create green energy for the Yorkshire mansion said to be the “Downton Abbey of the North”.
But plans by the Earl of Harewood to build a new heating system for his ancestral home, Harewood House, by selling cottages on his 4,000 acre estate have prompted anger from families who do not want to leave the tight-knit community.
Some, including an Army officer who recently returned from Afghanistan, face an uncertain future after being told they will be placed on short rolling contracts until their homes are sold.
Thirty period cottages owned by the estate in the nearby Harewood village are being put on the market in phases, with several empty properties already subject to sealed bids.
Residents fear the departure of the tenants, many of whom have lived in Harewood for more than 10 years, will “rip the heart out of the village”.
Captain John Bebb, an Army officer who returned from a six-month tour of Afghanistan to find his home was to be sold, urged estate officials to “show a bit of compassion and a bit of communication”.
The 46-year-old, who lives with his partner and three children, hopes to move to a nearby property in the village but says none of the other affected residents have been able to do the same.
He said: “Contractually they are doing everything by the book but if you are going to manage people then manage them by communicating. I know people in this village who are really distressed and don’t know what to do.
“Some choose to wait it out and hope their property is a buy-to-let, or that they do not sell as quickly as possible and can remain on a two-month contract.
“Some of the families have lived in this community for years and deserve at least empathy, which is not forthcoming. The discontent in the village is clear for all to see.
“There is a 74-year-old woman who really doesn’t know what she is going to do and she has been living here for 20 years.”
Cpt Bebb, who served with the Fourth Armoured Brigade, has also been told he cannot end his two year contract early to move into his new property.
He said: “This will be our fifth move in four years and the children have moved school each time. We really want to stay in this community.
“We just want them to release us 27 days early because we have been given this amazing opportunity to stay in the village.”
The 30 cottages are being sold to finance a biomass boiler, powered by woodchips, to replace the oil-fire and electric heat currently warming Harewood House and other buildings on the estate,
It is hoped Harewood’s £150,000-a-year fuel bills will be cut by a third and that the site will be able to lower its carbon footprint.
The affected homes are being advertised by estate agency Carter Jonas, who described the Harewood Estate as the “Downton Abbey of the North”.
A quote by the earl on the agency’s website said the scheme was an “ethical as well as an environmentally sound investment”.
He said: “In the 18th century, large numbers of cottages – many of them designed by John Carr, the architect of Harewood House – were required for estate workers.
“Today, 250 years later, that is simply no longer the case. By realising the value of some of our cottages and reinvesting in green energy, we will be able to safeguard the future of Harewood’s historic landscape and the major buildings that it contains.”
Tenants affected by the sale of the cottages were reluctant to speak on the record, and Harewood Estate officials claim they have only had one letter expressing concerns about the plans.
But one resident in the village, who did not want to be named, said: “There are quite a few people who are unhappy with the way the estate has conducted themselves.
“I know someone who has been told they have to leave, they want to buy their house but they have been told they have to bid for it like everyone else.”
Harewood House resident agent Christopher Ussher said some tenants in the cottages would not have their contracts renewed when they ended.
But he denied residents were angry about the plans. He said: “This is like anywhere in the rental market; there is no guarantee. These are not long-term tenancies.
“I have only had one letter from any tenant. I have not received any other emails or any written correspondence from residents expressing that concern.”