28 November 1997

Now smallholdings sales moratorium is backed by MP

CALLS by the Tenant Farmers Association for a moratorium on all sales of county council farms were taken up in the Commons this week by government Backbencher David Drew.

Mr Drew (Lab, Stroud) urged farm minister Jack Cunningham to introduce the moratorium while a national review of the importance of the county farms sector to agriculture, rural economy and the rural environment was carried out.

But in a letter to the TFA last week, Dr Cunningham said the future of the county farms estates should be left in the hands of local authorities rather than being run by central government.

National asset

Speaking in a debate on Wednesday, Mr Drew said the county council smallholdings were a vital national asset, but that county councils had shown a real lack of consistency of treatment across the country.

Without a review he said the country would be faced by "just another example of selling the silver for coppers, when keeping it will produce far greater rewards in the long run."

His comments come at a time when local authorities such as North Yorkshire, Kent, Wiltshire and West Sussex are looking to sell all or part of their farms estate to raise revenue for other programmes.

George Dunn, TFA chief executive, said he would be meeting North Yorkshire county council officials next week to discuss the future of the 136-farm estate.

Mr Dunn said West Sussex was the latest local authority to consider selling off part of its estate. The council had offered tenants a 25% discount of the councils farmhouse valuation if they surrendered their lifetime farm tenancy and took out a shorter-term farm business tenancy. "That would enable them to get easier vacant possession, and should be resisted," said Mr Dunn.n