A recommendation to undertake the structured partial sale and retain a reduced estate, along with five more recommendations, have been put forward to the cabinet by the general overview and scrutiny committee of Herefordshire Council. In a meeting, held at the Shire Hall on 27 October 2015, the committee reviewed the report and findings of the task and finish group on smallholdings estate (County Farms).
Further recommendations deal with the council retaining mineral rights, taking a supportive and sympathetic approach to the welfare and needs of current tenants, providing existing tenants with the opportunity to purchase their own holdings, investigating the potential for any remaining estate to be managed through co-operation with a neighbouring council and letting all land under farm business tenancies on a full repairing and insuring lease with annual reviews.
Speaking about the recommendations Councillor Bowen, chairman of general overview and scrutiny committee said, “The task and finish group consulted as far and as widely as possible within the available timescale and made a number of recommendations. After a lively and heartfelt debate within the committee, some recommendations from the report were put forward for consideration by the cabinet for final decision. The whole process has been absorbing, very informative and gave us all great cause for thought as what would be the best outcome for the people of Herefordshire and the farming community. Making best use of this major asset for our county has been paramount in our thinking.”
It was noted in the council’s Medium Term Financial Strategy 2015/16 - 2016/17 (MTFS), that due to reduction in funding from the government, the council is looking at other funding opportunities which include maximising capital receipts by disposing of assets. Additionally for the financial year 2014/15, the gross return on smallholdings capital has been less than 1% (0.96%), and this does not include maintenance and support costs.
Among other suggestions, the report also calls for the current policy for the management of the County Farms to be reviewed and amended, thus facilitating a more flexible and progressive approach.
The cabinet will now review recommendations made by the committee in its next meeting on 03 December 2015. The task and finish group was formed on 10 June 2015 by the committee to identify options for the long term future of the council’s smallholding estate and to make recommendations to the cabinet to increase the value delivered to the wider community of Herefordshire.
For more information please visit the general overview & scrutiny committee section