28 January 1999
Tenants challenge N Yorks flog-off

THE legality of the decision taken by North Yorkshire County Council last year to sell off its 126-farm, 4452ha (11,000 acre) smallholding estate is being challenged by the Tenant Farmers Association.

TFA chief executive George Dunn has invited the Ombudsman to investigate a complaint of maladministration against the council.

He believed the council overvalued the estate at over £5000 an acre through suggesting that disposal would produce capital of more than £60m. That, Mr Dunn said, coloured the view of councillors when they were asked to vote on the future of the estate last February.

The councils suggestion that the money could be raised within a maximum of 20 years was also wrong because many of the farmers involved had lifetime tenancies that would run beyond that deadline.

Mr Dunn added that, although the council agreed that sitting tenants should have first refusal on their holdings, prices had been pitched way beyond their means.

The TFA also believed that a legal opinion sought by Wiltshire County Council, which said the council had a statutory duty to provide starter holdings and that it would be illegal for it to sell the entire estate, would have implications in the North Yorkshire case.

But Bill Cross, head of North Yorkshires policy and performance unit, insisted the Wilts advice was one persons opinion. It had not been tested in law.

In any event, North Yorkshire had not decided to sell the whole estate. The decision taken by councillors last year was to sell off holdings as they became vacant.

The Ombudsman has yet to respond to the TFA complaints.

  • Durham County Council is considering the sale of its 50-farm, 1821ha (4500 acre) estate. Tenants are being given the chance to comment on the proposal by 12 February.