By FWi staff

CIVIL servants have had just two responses to a consultation paper which could result in big cuts in rates for farmers who diversify.

The papers was sent to more than 300 interested parties, including some farmers.

The plans – from the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) – could mean rate relief up to 100% to help farmers develop non-agricultural enterprises.

Responses have been very slow to come in.

“Papers were sent to local authorities and about 300 others in the farming and rural business sectors.

“We have had two responses – one positive and one negative,” says Geoff Salvatore of the DETR.

“I cant understand why we have had so few comments back when its something that will benefit the agricultural industry – at the moment it feels like we are wasting our time.”

The plans, published on 28 November, propose a mandatory 50% rate relief for new non-agricultural enterprises on farms.

This can be extended to 100% at the discretion of Local Authorities, provided they funded 25% of the cost of the top-up.

Eligible properties must have rateable values of no more than 6000, and relief will be available for a fixed five-year period running from the day legislation comes into force.

The move follows an earlier consultation paper published in August, as part of the Governments action plan for farming, proposing that relief should be given to small, new horse enterprises.

Responses indicated that this would not provide enough help to farmers who wished to diversify, as there were limited opportunities in this area.

Opinion was that it would be more helpful to farmers if rate relief was allowed for all new non-agricultural activities.

The NFU has welcomed the proposals.

“We value any move that helps farmers to develop primary forms of diversification,” says the NFUs technical director Andrew Opie.

“It is certainly good news that the government has realised that there is more to diversification than just horses, and we hope that it will combine with other issues in the ERDP such as grants in the rural enterprise scheme.”

Steve Humphris of Wiltshire-based consultant AKC believes that it is a step in the right direction. “But the objective does appear to be just to encourage farmers into diversification.

“They must focus on sustainable jobs and not just pushing all farmers into potentially high-risk enterprises.

“Some farmers will make good property managers but poor managers for starting up non-agricultural projects – it may not be right for everyone.”