Publicly-owned farms around Biggleswade, Sandy and Potton could be sold off
- Credit: Archant
Fears are being raised about whether Central Bedfordshire Council plans to change the way it runs publicly-owned farms, and possibly sell some of them.
The local authority manages around 5,000 acres of public farmland worth about £62 million.
These premises came under Central Bedfordshire’s ownership when it replaced South Beds District Council and Mid Beds District Council in 2011.
The farms are rented to 58 tenants across the area, with a number of smallholdings close to Potton, Sandy, Biggleswade, Arlesey and Stotfold.
A policy is being drafted for the way the local authority manages its farm estates.
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Independent Potton councillor Adam Zerny says the draft plan appears to be “quite vague”.
He told Tuesday’s executive meeting: “I don’t see the sites which are going to be sold off, and how much is going to be sold off.
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“If this can’t be provided then I ask that you guarantee a list of these sites comes back to the executive for further discussion.”
He’s concerned the council may sell off some of the farmland for housing schemes, as several sites south of Biggleswade have been included in the Local Plan for development.
But under the Agriculture Act (1970) local authorities have to provide chances for people with agricultural experience to farm, rather than just sell off the land.
The draft farms estate plan will highlight some of the benefits of owning the land. These include providing greater access to the countryside, greater control over the pace and type of development in rural areas and contributing to the supply of minerals.
“The draft plan is expected to meet the challenges and opportunities within the rural economy over the next 10 years,” according to a report to the council’s executive.
The local authority’s farms estate has supplied £50m in capital receipts from land sales during the last five years, says the report.
A target has been set for a further £36m from the Central Bedfordshire Council farms estate during the next four years.
The proposed approach is to have “a smaller number of holdings of a larger size, with more proactive management to reduce the risk of bad debt”.
Acquiring land as appropriate to have a manageable amount of farmland is more viable than selling off part or the whole of the estate, adds the report.
Conservative Ampthill councillor Paul Duckett, who chairs the corporate resources overview and scrutiny committee, welcomed the draft farm estates plan. He said: “It’s something we’ve been pushing for over quite some time.
“We need a plan for our farmland. Otherwise many people will fear we will turn into Hertfordshire and be covered in concrete.
“Nearly 5,000 acres of our farmland will remain as that.
“If it stays predominently green and rural it will be something for future generations to enjoy.”
Conservative Dunstable Manshead councillor Eugene Ghent said there are various farm tenancy arrangements in place.
“As they come to an end, there will be a consultation with the said tenants as to whether they want to maintain the tenancy,” said Mr Ghent, who is the council’s executive member for assets and housing delivery.
There will be an eight-week public consultation process over the draft farms estate plan, which will then be considered by the executive in October.