As Britain’s economic difficulties persist, and the structural deficit proves stubbornly difficult to reduce, HM Treasury mandarins are resorting to ever more desperate means to reduce the debt.
When individuals can’t make ends meet and run out of ideas to cut spending, it is not unusual to look around and see what possessions they can sell.
Britain’s aristocracy resorted to this approach when the costs of maintaining their stately homes became unsustainable in the last century. Many sold their homes to the National Trust.
Now, it has been revealed, the Treasury plans a similar approach with parts of Britain’s landscape.
Dales for Sale
First to go in the Great British Garage Sale will be the northern half of the Pennine Chain, which has been snapped up by the Netherlands for an undisclosed fee.
Sources say that the Dutch had been eyeing up the Pennines for some time. Officials from the Hague have been discretely visiting Britain for some months, carefully measuring each section of Britain’s rocky backbone, before deciding which part to place an offer for.
As a small country, the Netherlands has to be sure any new furnishings it buys will fit.
Holland is completely flat and mostly below sea level, so acquiring a part of the Pennine hills was thought immediately attractive.
Having a range of hills will provide the entire Dutch nation with a vital refuge as sea levels rise and the risk of major flooding increases.
Many residents of the low lying country also admit they find the flatness of it all rather monotonous. Some even come to live in British cities close to the Pennines, like Manchester, Sheffield, Bradford and Leeds, just for the pleasure of looking out of a window at hills and barren moorland.
Strategically, too, politicians see advantages of installing a barrier like this.
“It will help keep the Danish and the Swedes out” said a source close to the Dutch interior ministry.
“And the Germans. Definitely the Germans”, she added.
For Britain the cash proceeds from the sell-off are expected to reduce the country’s borrowings at a stroke.
Officials are so confident of their ability to market natural assets like this that several commercial Estate Agents have been contracted to value and sell off similar sites … although some, such as the North and South Downs, come with the complication of sitting tenants.
Part of the attraction of the North Pennines is that so few people live there. Negotiators were happy to throw a handful of sheep in with the deal. Expect a glut of Dutch Lamb in the shops soon.
Treasury sources admit that it wasn’t possible to find a single buyer for the whole Pennine Chain, as they had initially hoped. The Dutch plan only to buy a section of the Northern Pennines from Skipton up to Hexham, including a large part of the Yorkshire Dales. The latter will be renamed “The Dutch Dales”.
Transporting even this small section is said to represent one of the most challenging civil engineering projects of modern time.
The whole area will be cut into one metre cubes and individually numbered prior to transport. As all the top layers need to be removed before the base can be transported and installed, the top-most pieces will initially be stored at a site yet to be named in Northumberland.
The bottom layer will then be shipped in specially designed barges from Newcastle upon Tyne to the city of Delfzijl, the fifth largest sea port in the Netherlands. From here it will be only a short road trip to lay the Pennine cubes in their new location.
The process of building a range of Limestone mountains on Netherlands soil is expected to reap secondary benefits for the low lying nation.
The enormous weight of so much limestone and Millstone Grit in the North East is expected to cause the whole country to tilt upwards along the South Western coastline. This will have the advantage of reducing the risk of flooding without the expense of raising sea defences the conventional way.
Britain’s farming will benefit too.
Once the largely decorative mountain range has been removed, the flat space remaining will be landscaped with fresh topsoil and used to create new arable farmland.
A continuous fifteen foot high fence will be erected on a line from Hexham to Skipton, replacing the all-important barrier thought necessary to preserve the fragile peace between Lancashire and Yorkshire.
No exact date has been set for completion of the sale and commencement of the move. Both sides are urging their solicitors to hasten the formalities.
It is still possible that either Lancashire or Yorkshire could contest the Treasury’s title to the land, in which case the process might become bogged down for years. Officials are confident that any problems can be overcome though. A team is already replying to the standard ‘Enquiries before contract’ questionnaire.
Once a completion date is set, however, the new owners are eager to start shipping their new mountains as quickly as possible. Dutch officials are already spending weekends at garden centres dreaming of how they will customise their new acquisition and make it distinctively ‘Dutch’