Tenants criticise council farm review

The Tenant Farmers Association has criticised Gloucestershire County Council’s review of its rural estates, saying decisions based on the document could be illegal.

The county council believes it needs to raise £125m from its rural estate, including £25m over the next four years. Potential disposals would slash the size of the estate by a third and cut the number of tenancies from over 80 to about 50.

But the TFA claimed the review lacked the necessary detail for councillors to make appropriate decisions about such disposals. “The documentation produced for the review lacks the necessary depth and analysis required for proper decision-making,” said TFA chief executive George Dunn.

“It contains little or no valuation information. It seems that the conclusion of the review is that the council should strive to achieve its £25m target at any cost. This is no basis for ensuring that taxpayers receive the best value for the farms being sold. Legally, councillors will not be able to make a decision in support of the review which stands the test of the obligations upon them. If they were to do so they would leave themselves open to legal challenge.”

But councillor Raymond Theodoulou, cabinet member for resources, said the council took care at all times to act within the law. “Gloucestershire is only proposing to sell 2000 acres of our 8500-acre estate. With significant reductions to council services there is no way we can justify special protection for tenant farms when we are facing such tough decisions elsewhere.”

John Tingey, Gloucestershire NFU chairman, said the lack of detail in the consultation had limited stakeholders’ responses. “All stakeholders would welcome a full debate to help the council meet its objectives with a smaller impact on the estate. The principle of retaining the core estate is fundamentally supported, but the inclusion of 10 extra farms has dubious justification.”

The council will vote on the proposals on 16 February.