Edinburgh Gorgie Farm: Operators locked in stand-off with council over lease of city centre farm
The company that runs Gorgie Farm is locked in a stand-off with Edinburgh council over the lease of the farm.
Current operators the Love Group claim the charity is being ‘forced’ to remain in lease by the council, after announcing it would close next week due to ‘serious financial challenges’.Following a last-ditch meeting on Friday (January 13), the company said it was told it is in breach of its lease.
But the boss of the Group said the council doesn’t have grounds to keep them in a lease – and it has no choice but to press ahead with plans to close the farm next week and rehome animals.
The council said it was ‘encouraging’ that it has had several organisations express interest in taking over the site and was looking into keeping the animals on the farm in Gorgie until its future was agreed. Local councillors, MSPs and a community campaign group have rallied around to help find cash to save the farm from closing its gates next week.
But Love Group Director Lynn Black said the planned closure would go ahead as they had been told by the council there was no money to keep it going until a takeover was finalised.
She claims the council accused the company of being in breach of its lease and branded it a ‘slap in the face’. Ms Bell said she believes the Group has adhered to the contract by giving one month’s notice after three years. She stressed the company will do what they can to help save the farm – but refuses to be locked into a lease if there’s no immediate financial support available.
The council confirmed its lease is a rolling annual lease which runs up to 28 November. It can be terminated earlier but only if both council and Love reach a mutual agreement.
Sources claimed Love Group is going into administration but CEO Lyn Bell has denied this.
Ms Bell told the Evening News the Group doesn’t have the finances to keep the farm afloat and has criticised the council for a ‘last gasp’ response, claiming she first told the authoritiy in April it was struggling. Other parts of the company which employs 250 people have had to subsidise the farm while it has been operating at a loss.
Unless a cash injection of £24,000 minimum is made by next Wednesday, the group said it plans to go ahead with rehoming the animals at the Five Sisters Zoo and East Links.
‘The farm simply can’t survive and we can’t keep subsidising it’
Ms Bell said: "It’s sad that I’ve had to take the hard decision to hand over the lease. I first contacted the council in April, then again in November and early December about financial situation at the farm. It’s a bit of a slap in the face that instead of trying to find a constructive solution they are instead telling us there is no money available to help keep the farm going. And also claiming that we are in breach of our lease. I don’t believe they can tie us into that.
"We put a proposal to them to convert one of the buildings for residential accommodation and this was blocked. The council told us permission won’t be granted for this. Without a change in the current model the farm simply can't survive and we can’t keep subsidising it. We did look at charging entry fees but we costed this up and even with that, it wouldn’t be enough. The cost for staff salaries alone is £25,000 a month so with bills on top that’s £40,000.”
She added: “If cash could be found I would consider staying on and look at keeping animals on site with one or two staff, maybe for a couple of months or until another operator could takeover. But as things stand we are leaving on the 19 January. Staff will leave next Wednesday.”
Councillor Ross McKenzie told the Evening News: “Forcing the group to remain in lease is a disaster. I’d worry that there is nothing to stop LOVE moving animals and getting rid of staff, even if they keep the lease.”
Responding to this, Council Leader Cammy Day said: “We are looking for a managed transition of the site and are really keen to develop exciting new plans for the future of Gorgie Farm. We have more meetings planned next week, including with Love Learning, to find a solution that aims to achieve this.”