22 December 2000

Rate relief questionnaire gets dreadful response

By Tamarind Davidson

FARMERS wanting to diversify could benefit from rate relief if a government proposal to encourage development of non-agricultural enterprises is adopted.

But few responses to a consultation paper explaining the plan have been sent back to the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions, even though the deadline for receiving them is Dec 31.

"Papers were sent to local authorities and about 300 others in the farming and rural business sectors and we have had two responses – one positive and one negative," says the DETRs Geoff Salvatore.

Although this apathy may not influence the outcome, Mr Salvatore cannot understand it. "Its something that will benefit the agricultural industry – at the moment it feels like we are wasting our time."

The plans 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 fund 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.

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."

Steve Humphris of Wilts-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 push 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." &#42