Council farm tenants continue battle against estate sell-off

The disposal plan for Herefordshire County Council’s farming estate has been approved, but tenants are still pushing for their notices to be revoked.

The council’s plan includes the extension of the majority of tenancies from the initial notice end of February 2017 to September 2017.  

But tenants are still unhappy because the council leader’s promised last year that they would not lose their homes or livelihoods as tenancies would be transferred to a new owner.

George Dunn, chief executive of the Tenant Farmers Association (TFA), said:

“There is the fundamental moral point that politicians said one thing in December and are now doing another and they shouldn’t be able to get away with it.”

See also: Council accused of ‘misleading’ tenants on estate sell-off

The council’s handling of the farming estate sell-off is being investigated by the Local Authority Ombudsman following a complaint of maladministration by the TFA.

Tenants worn down

Nick Lloyd, a tenant farmer with a FBT on a 72ha mixed holding, was served notice on Woodcroft Farm in January, where he has been farming for 19 years.

“Our main grievance is that as far as we were concerned we would just have had a different landlord,” he said.

“We’re all pretty fed up now – morale is quite low. It’s been going on for so long with no answers, it just wears you down really.”

The extension of his tenancy to September will help buy a bit more planning time, but the council is not doing it to help tenants, said Mr Lloyd.

Rather, it wants to ensure the land and dwellings are occupied and in their best condition when potential buyers look round after the estate is marketed in spring.

He hopes he will know who the new owner of his farm is before his tenancy ends and that he may be able to negotiate to stay.

He said he is “desperately looking for [another tenancy]” and had been shortlisted for a National Trust tenancy, but missed out to someone from outside of the area.

Council’s stance

Back in February, council leader Mr AW Johnson told Farmers Weekly that tenants would “not necessarily” lose their livelihoods or homes, and he had originally only been referring to Agricultural Holdings Act tenancies (AHA) when talking about those who would be protected.

Tenants on FBTs would have to vacate their farms unless the new owner offered them tenancies, he added, but the council would be “more than happy” to sit down with tenants to see what support it could give.

However, he said the farming estate was a valuable asset that should be used for the benefit of all local taxpayers.

“The farming estate is a publicly owned asset worth tens of millions of pounds at a time when we are having to make £85m-worth of savings over 10 years.”