Report calls for Local Authorities to protect county council farms

A new report has called for Local Authorities to do more to protect the future of county farms.

Produced by Sir Donald Curry, chairman of DEFRA’s Sustainable Farming and Food Delivery Group, the report said the farms were an important way of helping new entrants into the industry and also provided wider economic and environmental benefits.

But, it highlighted the fact that the amount of land managed by Local Authorities had fallen by 41,458ha between 1984 and 2006 to 96,206ha, equivalent to a 30% reduction or 1884ha per year. The number of tenants had fallen by 3917, or 58%, over the same period.

“Local Authorities have to look beyond short-term pragmatic economic pressures and recognise the importance of Local Authority estates,” Sir Don said. “Let’s not just dispose of them as a short-term venture to plug a gap in the budget.”

Farms owned and managed by local authorities were an important strategic national asset that assisted Local Authorities in meeting wider economic, countryside and environmental objectives and provide an essential route into farming for new entrants, he said.

Sir Don encouraged all Local Authorities to support and act on the report’s four key recommendations of:
1. Greater networking and collaboration in the management of Local Authority estates
2. Regional economic strategies to recognise the importance of County farms as an entry point for new entrants into agriculture
3. Local Authorities to review their estates, taking a longer-term view on the retention, disposal or acquisition of land
4. Local Authorities to make more effort to develop the wider benefits their land could provide e.g. renewable energy, local food, public access, education, employment

The NFU, Tenant Farmers Association, Country Land and Business Association and Tenancy Reform Industry Group (TRIG) all supported the report’s recommendations.