Thornhill Estates are behind the proposed Northern Gateway development scheme which would develop 642 acres of land from Ainley Top to Cowcliffe and including parts of Lindley Moor, Rastrick, Grimescar, Birkby and Fixby. LINDA WHITWAM looks at the company’s history, the man behind it and some of the reaction.
THE MAN behind the huge Grimescar Valley development is a conservationist and traffic campaigner in the area where he owns a country estate.
Mr Edmund Thornhill, controller and sole shareholder of Thornhill Estates, has made headlines for his support for the expansion of a conservation area on land which he owns near his house in Cambridgeshire.
He was featured in the local media there for giving the go-ahead for Paxton Pits Nature Reserve, at St Neots, Cambridgeshire, to be extended from 200 to 704 acres on his land in 2007.
The Reserve is a haven for wildlife and waterfowl and includes nature trails and bird watching facilities.
In 2006, Mr Thornhill offered a six-figure sum of his own money for improvements to a road junction near where he lives in the village of Diddington at St. Neots to be improved.
Mr Thornhill’s family has owned most of the parish of Diddington for nearly 300 years.
Speaking of the dangers of heavy traffic, he said at the time: “Getting people into the village safely is the right thing to do for it to be sustainable as a community.
“The safety of the villagers and their children who use this junction on a daily basis is of paramount importance.”
One of the issues raised by Huddersfield residents following the announcement of Thornhill Estates’ Northern Gateway scheme is the impact and potential danger of increased traffic on suburban roads.
But a spokesman for Thornhill Estates said: “At this stage we have put forward representations for inclusion in the new Local Development Framework and we are asking the council to consider land holdings for future allocation.
“Should a planning application be submitted for this site we will, of course, carry out and submit the relevant assessments which would include traffic and environmental assessments.”
Mr Thornhill added: “I can confirm that I have worked with the Highways Agency to convince them of the need for a new slip road off the A1 to the village of Diddington to replace a notoriously dangerous junction. I provided a six figure sum for the slip road to be installed.
“I can also confirm that Thornhill Estates provided land to enable the expansion of Paxton Pits nature reserve as part of the planning approval to enable the extraction of gravel deposits at Paxton Pits.’’
Although Mr Thornhill has a home in Diddington he lives in central London.
He said that in 1719 a younger son from the family set up an estate at Diddington and in 1754 the Thornhill family acquired an estate at Calverley between Leeds and Bradford.
The company’s origins lie in Fixby, but it is now based in Diddington. The name was changed from The Thornhill Yorkshire Estates Company Ltd to Thornhill Estates in 2002.
According to last year’s directors’ report and accounts, the company lists its main activities as “land and buildings ownership” and has a net worth of more than £6.5m.
All of this is held by Mr Edmund George William Thornhill, who is company secretary and director. He is also the only shareholder. The other directors are two members of his family.
For the last two years, Thornhill Estates has recorded an operating loss of £7,000 and paid no tax.
In 2010 Mr Thornhill received a dividend of £300,000 from the company.
Thornhill Estates has fixed assets, predominantly land, worth over £9 million. If the Northern Gateway plan is given the green light, the value of its land would rise dramatically.
Mr Thornhill, 42, was educated at Eton and the University of Westminster where he gained a BSc. He lists his occupation as chartered surveyor.
In 2010 the Thornhill Charitable Trust received an income of £6,508 and donated £10,444 to charity.
The Thornhill family fought with Harold at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066. Their ancestor Gamall is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1085. The first mention of the Huddersfield Thornhills at Fixby appears after the Norman Invasion when Sir Richard de Thornhill, of Thornhill Lees, (1228-1287) married Matilda de Fixby, also of Thornhill.
They had four children and created the Fixby Hall estate on the site of what is now Huddersfield Golf Club during the reign of Henry III (1216-1272).
Some believe that Sir Richard de Thornhill Lees was the ‘Poore Knyght,’ who is referred to as ‘Sir Richard of the Lees’ in the ‘Geste of Robin Hood.’
The Thornhills were essentially English nobility, descended from Anglo-Danish landholders of Yorkshire. Much of their land was originally in the Calder Valley between Pontefract and Dewsbury.
Members of the Thornhill family lived full-time at Fixby Hall until 1809 when they moved to Norfolk and the building was divided into three dwellings. Fixby Hall’s Orangery was built in 1786 as a wedding present from Thomas Thornhill to his bride, Eleanor Lynne. Their daughter, Clara Thornhill, inherited Fixby and later bought Rushton Hall in Northamptonshire. She became a personal friend of Charles Dickens and it is thought that he gained his inspiration for Haversham Hall in Great Expectations from his visits to Fixby.
The Thornhill estate in Huddersfield stretches from Edgerton through surrounding districts to Pudsey. In Edgerton most of the estate was developed in the 1860s. There have been many additions, particularly since 1933 – the year when the limited company Thornhill Estates was set up – and much of the land was sold off on leases.
The majority of houses in Cowcliffe and Fixby as well as Edgerton are leasehold. Residents are charged a nominal amount of ground rent, usually around £2 per year.
THORNHILL Estates’ plan would change the face of large swathes of Huddersfield.
The 42-page Northern Gateway scheme submitted to Kirklees Council proposes developing 260 hectares (642 acres) of land from Ainley Top to Cowcliffe and including parts of Lindley Moor, Rastrick, Grimescar, Birkby and Fixby.
Thornhill Estates estimate the development, most of which is planned for greenfields, will bring £180m of investment to Huddersfield and create 1,532 jobs.
The main proposals are:
841 new houses
Offices covering 355,000sq ft of floor space
Some 10,000sq ft of new shops
An eco centre covering 20,000sq ft
A 60-bed hotel
A 60-bed care home.
Radical development at Huddersfield Golf Club in Fixby including a hotel with spa and golf academy.
THORNHILL Estates’ plans for Huddersfield Golf Club have been given short shrift by club officials.
President David Balderstone has issued a letter on behalf of the board to all members In it he states that the landowner cannot make any changes unless agreed with the club within the terms of the current lease which still has over half a century to run.
Mr Balderstone states: “The Board wishes to advise members that, whilst it is aware of the landlord’s aspirations for the club which have been discussed in meetings over the years in the most general terms, absolutely nothing has been agreed with the landlord in respect of any alterations to the club or the course.
“As the club’s lease has more than 50 years to run, nothing can be imposed on the club in that agreement.”
In the plans Thornhill Estates proposes:
l A new hotel and spa
l Improvements to the course to eradicate steep walks and sloping fairways
l A nine-hole academy course for beginners
l A nine-hole pitch and putt course
l A golfing academy, including a 300-metre driving range
l Planting trees to obscure the view of Fixby Waterworks and pylons
l Creation of woodland walks, cycle routes and bridleways.
The plans were handed to Kirklees Council earlier this year as part of the Local Development Framework (LDF) consultation.
IN LINE with the Government’s Big Society agenda, the controversial Localism Bill is currently making its way through Parliament.
In theory, the proposed new bill would ‘empower communities to do things their way’ and ‘strengthen accountability to local people’, according to ministers.
The aim of the Bill is to remove certain powers from the cumbersome workings of central Government and devolve them to local people and groups who would make the decisions affecting their communities.
The Localism Bill contains a number of measures which would have a significant impact on the planning system. It calls for a new Neighbourhood Plan to be established in each district.
In Kirklees this is called the Local Development Framework, or LDF, which the council is currently working on.
The Government’s draft National Planning Framework, published two months ago, reduces over 1,000 pages of planning guidelines down to just 52 pages.
The emphasis is on allowing development, rather than protecting green fields. If councils turn down developers’ proposals, they will have to explain themselves at appeal.
The cornerstone of the National Planning Framework is Paragraph 19, which states:
“Planning should proactively drive and support the development that this country needs.
“Every effort should be made to identify and meet the housing business and other development needs of an area and respond positively to wider opportunities for growth.
“Decision takers at every level should assume that the default answer to development proposals is “yes” except where this would compromise the key sustainable development framework principles set out in this Framework.”
In practice, many opponents – including the National Trust – believe the new laws, if implemented, would give developers carte blanche to concrete over the countryside.