Tenants on Hampshire County Council’s farms have won a major victory over proposals to limit the length of lettings agreements.
Up until Wednesday (17th March), leaseholders faced an uncertain future as a result of recommendations being put forward in an upcoming policy review, which tenants had thought would leave them with nowhere to farm.
But, following discussion between tenants’ representatives and councillors, an agreement has been reached which sees much more flexibility within the suggested review.
The draft recommendations suggest dividing the 1971ha (4870acre) estate’s farms into two categories: Those below 100acres would be classified as “starter units” while those of 101acres or more would be labelled as “progression units”.
The council is still proposing limiting the length of tenancy agreements, forcing existing tenants to move on to other holdings and to provide vacancies for new entrants to the industry.
Starter units would be let for an initial term of seven years with the opportunity for a further three year extension at the council’s discretion. Agreements on progression units would be limited to a maximum of 15 years with tenants expected to have found alternative property at the end of this term.
The policy for existing tenancies – mostly ten-year FBTs – was to have been to extend these for a further five years, unless the council considered the land to be required for other purposes. Tenants on a second ten-year term would not have been eligible for this extension.
But, following Wednesday’s discussions, the council has acknowledged there needs to be flexibility built in to any proposal to make allowance for existing tenants that can demonstrate they have made efforts to find other land to move their businesses on to.
“The principle was a good one in theory,” explained Keith Mannerings, chairman of the Hampshire County Council Tenants’ Association.
“It would have given a leg-up to new starters and the chance to develop their business by progressing on to a bigger unit. But what it failed to recognise was the current situation in the let-land market in Hampshire.
“Tenancies just aren’t coming up, so those farmers kicked out at the end of their term would have struggled to find anywhere else to move on to. It’s impossible to make a long term business plan. It would have become a conveyor belt, putting perfectly successful businesses to a premature end at the conclusion of their term.”
The move would effectively boost the turnover of tenants, making room for new entrants. However Mr Mannerings believes that there is already a relatively high hand-over rate.
“In the last five years we’ve seen four or five tenants retire or go bust. That’s provided the opportunity for new starters through natural turnover so it’s not a closed shop.
“These new policies would have gone completely against the council’s stated aim of supporting its tenants.”