24 August 2001

Era ending as Bucks sells off smallholdings

By Catherine Paice

ANOTHER nail is banged into the coffin of the county council smallholding estate with Buckinghamshire re-embarking on the process of selling most of its holdings.

About 30 farms have been identified for disposal, ranging in size from 60 to 250 acres.

In total, sales amount to more than 40% of some 5000 acres remaining of the estate. Core farms are being retained as "principals" and other sites will be held for development.

At least 10 holdings have already been sold or are in the process of being marketed.

According to selling agent, Bruton Knowles, some tenants have opted to buy the freeholds of their holdings. Others have accepted a capital payment in return for surrender of the tenancy.

The "often complex" tenancy negotiations have been handled by Simon Millard at BKs Aylesbury office.

"The traditional role of the county council smallholding as a stepping stone to a larger farm has been in decline for some time," said Mr Millard.

"The problems surrounding agriculture have forced many tenants to seek part-time work to support the smallholding. Recent figures show that as few as 1% of such tenants have moved on to larger units."

As a result, he says, the historic purpose of the smallholding estate as a means of entry to farming for newcomers has been undermined.

Largest on the market is 250-acre Dean Tithe Farm at Stewkely. Formerly a 100-acre dairy holding (milk quota has already been sold), a further 100 acres has been added for the sale. It includes a three-bedroom Victorian house and a good range of buildings.

A hefty £800,000 is sought, largely attributable to the residential premium for property in the area.

Buckinghamshire will be using proceeds from the sales to help fund capital expenditure on schools, roads and other services throughout the country.

The Tenant Farmers Association has expressed "disappointment" at Buckinghamshires decision.

"We need a national review of the strategic importance of the county councils smallholding estates," said George Dunn of the TFA. "These farms should not be seen as local assets but as national assets."

The TFA alleges that BCC appears to be reluctant to sell freely to tenants, instead asking for clawback clauses should planning permission be granted, or a sale is made at a significant premium with the next few years.

"It is a pity that in this dash for cash they are trying to restrict what tenants can do," said Mr Dunn. &#42