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Page last updated at 10:59 GMT, Wednesday, 22 September 2010 11:59 UK
Frustration over county farm sell-off in Somerset
Matthew Heal, Pepperhill Farm
Matthew says the review of sale hasn't been thought through

A tenant farmer near Bridgwater has said Somerset County Council's review of sale for his farm has not been looked at closely enough.

Matthew Heal has run his Pepperhill Farm at Over Stowey since 2003.

He says the document has not considered every aspect of the business like its educational work and conservation.

The council denied this was the case saying these points were scrutinised but were not in themselves a sufficient reason to keep the farm on its books.

Somerset County Council owns 62 farms which it thinks could be worth around £40m.

The farm will now go on sale in 2012.

'Educational access'

Speaking of the document, Matthew said: "We were told there was going to be a full farm review and when we got the review through the post we had one A4 piece of paper with five questions answered on it.

"I was expecting an eight or nine page essay on how they came to the review answers they got."

He went onto to say the review "wasn't worth the paper it was written on" and the council hadn't taken into consideration the farm's landscape, its stewardship schemes which help look after the countryside and its education access work.

"Over this last year alone, we've had 800 children from various different schools and different groups of people and this place is an asset to the council really, because of where we are and how we're providing this educational access to the children and other folk."

The tenant farmers have been given the option to buy the farms, but Matthew said this is unlikely because of the expected cost.

He now plans to see if other farms are available for tenants so he can continue his livestock farming and rebuild his business.

'Sufficient reason'

"We came to this county farm because I built up the business and we wanted to consolidate it and got into this ring-fenced farm, which the council gave us the opportunity to do - now I'm going to get back right where I started."

Pepperhill Farm is what's termed as a ring-fenced farm, as all the fields are linked together making it easier to manage and for livestock to roam more freely.

Previously, Matthew farmed on a grass-keep basis where he rented various fields dotted around the county from private landowners, which meant a lot of time travelling on the road.

He had to build his business in this way in order to meet the criteria required for a county farm.

A spokesman for Somerset County Council said: "The review did consider the use of farms by schools for educational purposes but this is something that isn't in its own right sufficient reason to keep an individual farm.

"The council is likely to retain around a third of its farms and of those that they sell, it is expected that a number of tenants will purchase their farms too."

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