Future of Somerset council farms hangs in the balance
SOMERSET County Councillors were due to meet this morning to discuss a proposal that could lead to the disposal of much of the council’s farm estate.
The council is keen to sell off some of its farms as a means of reducing its crippling £400 million debt.
Proposals due to be discussed on Monday would pave the way for a review the farm holdings, potentially resulting in a number being sold off.
Conservative county councillor David Huxtable, who has responsibility for resources, has told the local press he did not expect a complete sell-off in the foreseeable future.
While most estate farmers have a lifetime tenancy that lasts until they choose to end it, around 20 have fixed term contracts that would be unlikely to be renewed, he said. He added that previous sales of county farms had raised around £15m.
“Considering farm sales is not something I do with great relish but we are in dire financial straits and our debt will only get worse if we don’t do anything about it,” he said.
“We have been selling county farms for as long as we’ve had them. I can’t understand why we have to subsidise farming when we don’t subsidise other businesses. Farming is not our core business.”
Council farms are seen as a vital first step into the industry for many farmers. The Tenant Farmers Association has written to all Somerset County Council cabinet members prior to Monday’s meeting, urging them not to ‘squander vital assets’ through a ‘knee-jerk’ policy of farm disposal..
TFA chief executive George Dunn said there did not appear to have been any public consultation prior to the meeting.
“Whenever county farms issues have been raised in Somerset in the past there has been a groundswell of public support for their retention. It is therefore vital in any reassessment of policy for county farms that there is a full engagement with the public,” he said.
He said he was ‘greatly troubled’ that the Cabinet intends to only take two months to review its policy.
“I have urged the Cabinet members not to take a precipitous decision which they and council taxpayers will in time regrets,” Mr Dunn said.