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Norfolk's County Farms U-Turn is Madness
2009-09-17

The Tenant Farmers Association has sent a stark warning to Norfolk County Council that it would be madness to consider ditching its currently very successful management of its County Farms in favour of a knee-jerk policy of disposal.

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The TFA’s Chief Executive, George Dunn said "We have been aware that Norfolk has been conducting a review of its policy on county council farms. In fact, we have been able to have a positive input to that review. Up to now, all the signs have indicated that Norfolk intended to retain its 16,000 acres of farmland not just for the significant financial benefit provided to the county but because of their immense wider social, educational and environmental benefits. However, recently, the TFA has received a number of well-informed reports which would indicate that the council is considering a U-turn in its policy which could see it selling off a significant amount or all of the land within its portfolio".

“At this stage we have been unable to substantiate the reports and I've personally asked Councillor Tony Williams, the portfolio holder for County Farms within the Norfolk County Council Cabinet to confirm or deny these reports. If the reports are true the new policy would be contrary to all I have understood about Norfolk's policy towards its County Farms over a number of years. Indeed only as recently as this spring, the County Council's Cabinet accepted a report from the its Scrutiny Committee which stressed the importance of the County Farms estate not only to the farming community but to the wider community within Norfolk”, said Mr Dunn.

A principal recommendation of the 97 page Scrutiny Committee review report, was that the Norfolk County Farms estate should become ‘an exemplar of innovation, investment and partnership working in the interests of tenants, local communities and present and future generations of Norfolk people’. It went on to say that optimising capital receipts ‘should no longer be the principal priority for the management of the estate’ and that ‘future priorities should be aimed at maximising the use of the estate in meeting those objectives which are other than the purely financial one of land disposal for cash’.

“County Farms are important local and national assets which have the potential for yielding both financial and non-financial returns long into the future. Selling off the family silver is never a good idea particularly when it is possible within a proper, structured asset management plan to create sustainable returns through careful, planned, strategic disposals of small pockets of development land balanced with the purchase of additional land for the estate at reasonable cost. Other local authorities have managed this to date including Norfolk and I do not see the wisdom of turning its back on such a policy at this stage,” said Mr Dunn.

“It would be madness for the local authority to consider a policy of disposal. It would be against the clear advice that the local authority has received both internally and externally and something which will be regretted by the local authority and council tax payers for many years to come,” said Mr Dunn.

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