The Northern Farmer was given a special preview tour of the new auction centre at Humbleton Park, Darlington. Pictures: Sarah Caldecott.

A NEW era is soon to dawn for a Northern auction mart.

A modern multi-million-pound auction centre is presently taking shape on the outskirts of Darlington, the culmination of decades of work and planning.

The opening of the Darlington Farmers Auction Mart (DFAM) centre at Humbleton Park, described as ‘a monumental moment’ by market manager and senior auctioneer Scott Ferrie, is now only weeks away.

The grand opening ceremony is due to take place during the 2020 NBA Beef Expo on Thursday, May 28. The building work is on schedule for completion in early May, and the mart is likely to start operating as soon as the site is ready.

The benefits of the move should be felt throughout the local and regional farming community, and in Darlington itself, with the switch from the present site near the town centre, where issues include access and restrictions on operating hours, to one on its edge near to major roads.

It will be a fresh chapter in a very long history, for records of a cattle mart in Darlington go back to the 11th century, when the market rights were vested in the Bishop of Durham. The present site on Clifton Road has been operating since March 4, 1878, when Mr Theo Fry, the Mayor of Darlington, sanctioned the market’s move from the town centre to the ‘New Cattle Market’, which cost £18,000 - the equivalent of more than £2 million in today’s money by some calculations. The opening day witnessed an entry of 988 cattle and 402 sheep.

DFAM chairman Mark Dent said the move to Humbleton Park had been in the company’s strategy planning for nearly 20 years, to gain a more strategic location and better serve its customers, and also to be able to diversify and create an agricultural hub.

He added: “This new facility has taken decades of planning by a great number of board members and staff, past and present, over the years.

“The move will be a momentous occasion for DFAM. Despite some having a fondness for the old mart on Clifton road, the new facility cannot come soon enough for the majority, with a general mood of anticipation and excitement.

“The move is viewed as a brand-new start for DFAM, with opportunities to develop the business for the future in an easily accessible location without the constraints of been a tenant in an urban environment.

“The new facility is state-of-the-art and environmentally conscious, with solar PV, rainwater harvesting for the wash down to extracting solids from the animal waste to spread back on the land as fertiliser, therefore reducing the volume pumped into the sewer system.

“It has the most up-to-date pennage area that will transform the experience for livestock, with their welfare being at the forefront.

“Up there with equal importance is the health and safety of our staff. They will also see a transformation in their working environment, from the equipment to help them handle the larger animals safely to their very own welfare facilities, including showers, changing rooms and kitchen.”

The mart also has an award-winning cafe that will be open to the public, a conference area that can be hired and a board room for smaller meetings. The main office area has ten internal office units to be occupied by businesses servicing the agricultural industry, with agricultural merchants, a veterinary practice, an accountant and a law firm in negotiations to lease units.

Among those moving to the new site is DFAM’s sister company, rural chartered surveyors and estate agents Vickers & Barrass, which will have purpose-built premises to spearhead its growth and expanding customer services.

Its estate agency operation, with its seven-strong team of sales negotiators, chartered surveyors and support staff, will move in the spring from Crook to Humbleton Park, where it will occupy 69 square metres of modern office space.

The firm will continue to offer estate agency services from its current Tow Low office, which is currently being extended, doubling office capacity as part of strategic investment in resources to meet future demand.

Adam Barrass, the company’s rural chartered surveyor and practice manager, is eyeing expansion to boost capacity on the back of a strong pipeline of work over the coming months, despite continued uncertainties in a post-Brexit economic landscape and the uncertainty facing the agricultural sector.

He said: “We are busier than ever, investing to secure growth and increasingly developing our footprint in the regional property market with a business that’s on the rise, but at the same time not forgetting our rural routes and the farming clientele who make the business the success that it is today.

“Our new Darlington office within the new auction mart building will give us the space we need for growth, enabling our team, which offers a range of options to suit all requirements and budgets, to better serve our markets across the North of England. It will lay the foundations as we continue to go from strength to strength.”

The building work has been making good progress, with a new roundabout and external fencing, unloading docks all the pens and the auction ring, plus underfloor heating.

Mr Ferrie said everyone was now looking forward to the new mart starting operating. “This new facility is a monumental moment for Darlington as a town; finally the mart will move, something both the farming community of County Durham and the good folk of Darlington have waited decades to see happen.

“The biggest boost for our customers is the near perfect location. Being adjacent to the A1(M) and the A68 is ideal; couple this with ample parking and it will once again become a pleasure, not a pain, to visit DFAM.

“The new design is state-of-the art and I believe firmly places DFAM as an industry leader in animal welfare. We are conscious of the growing awareness from the public to eat locally sourced meat from animals whose existence has been as stress-free as possible; we are proud to take our role in the food chain very seriously.

“The facility will make our team of professional staff safer than ever before in the work place, the modern design should create a professional, safe and efficient running of our livestock sales.

“We have in place a dedicated and talented team here at DFAM covering all aspects of the modern livestock farmer’s needs and we collectively are all looking forward to expanding our business and servicing the farming community for many years to come.”