Gloucestershire County Council has approved the sale of 43% of its tenanted farms in a bid to raise £125m in capital receipts.
The council, which had previously been held up as an example of sustainable estate management, is to cut its core estate from 8500 acres to 6400 acres. It will slash farm numbers by 38, to 50, and other lettings from 70 to six.
“Gloucestershire County Council is aware of the contribution that the estate makes to national food production, sustainability objectives and to the regional economy,” said a spokesman.
“While the council remains committed to agriculture and the benefits that it brings to the county, the current review needs to be assessed against the council budget deficit of £108m and the need for capital receipt generation, which is critical to reduce the overall deficit and interest rate charges.”
It expects to start selling farms from 1 April, realising £24m over four years and £125m over the next 10 years.
It had planned to sell a further 10 stand-alone farms, but following consultation agreed to review those sales in four years’ time, providing the first £24m had been reached.
The review also introduced changes to maintenance liabilities, requiring tenants to foot the bill in exchange for longer Farm Business Tenancy agreements on larger units.
“There is still some work to be done on tenants’ liabilities,” said George Dunn, chief executive of the Tenants Farmers’ Association.
“We are always disappointed when any local authority looks to sell this amount of land as a knee-jerk reaction to financial difficulties, but are relieved that the council has listened to the concerns of stakeholders in some of these matters.”