BBC Home > BBC News > England

Tory council accused of trying to sell Somerset farms

30 April 10 16:55 GMT

The Conservative-run Somerset County Council has been accused of trying to sell off its core county farms estate.

The National Farmers Union (NFU) wrote to the leader of the council after three tenant farmers said they were told they could not renew their leases.

A Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate accused the council of having a secret plan to sell the farms.

The Labour candidate said he would oppose any plans to sell. The council said no decision had been made.

Tenant farmer Matthew Heal said he had received an annual notice to quit his farm at Over Stowey, near Bridgwater, in March.

The letters are sent to the farmers every year when they come to the end of their tenancies.

Mr Heal said: "Normally the letter says they are going to re-let the farm and we can apply along with everybody else.

"But this time, we've been told they aren't going to decide what they're going to do with the farm until after the election."

Somerset NFU chairman Mark Pope said families were in complete limbo over the future.

He said he had written to council leader Kenneth Maddock seeking clarification about why it was delaying a decision about re-letting the farms and what its long term plans were for its county farms estate.

David Laws, Lib Dem candidate for Yeovil, said it seemed the Tories were "determined to keep the public in the dark until after election day".

"Selling the county farms would be a devastating blow to farming in Somerset and it would make it more difficult for young farmers to come into the business," he added.

Labour candidate Lee Skevington said he would oppose any move to sell off the county farms estate or any other community assets.

He said: "This seems to be yet another case of the Conservatives out to make some quick cash by selling off land to developers."

'No decision'

Tory candidate Kevin Davis said he had spoken to some tenant farmers and the county council's leader, who had told him there was no change in policy regarding tenanted farms.

He said while as far as he knew the farms were not going to be sold, Tory policy if they were was that they would be run by a community trust or residents' organisation.

"It doesn't matter who owns the farm, it's about the people who are running it," he said.

He added he had urged farmers to start negotiations over their leases a year to 18-months before their tenancies run out.

A council spokesman said it was currently reviewing its assets as part of an efficiency drive.

"These assets include property, land, farms and office accommodation.

"A report on the use of assets and any proposals to use them differently will be presented to a cabinet meeting in June, which will be publicised and then papers will be put on our website.

"No decision on the future of these tenancies have been made."

The candidates for Yeovil are: British National Party: Robert Baehr; Conservative: Kevin Davis; Liberal Democrat: David Laws; UK Independence Party: Nigel Pearson; Labour: Lee Skevington.

Share this

Related BBC sites

*