Local authority denies farm sell-off rumours

Norfolk County Council has denied speculation that it is to sell off its entire farmland portfolio.

The council has the third-largest county farms portfolio in England, with an estimated 6500ha (16,200acres) of farmland let to more than 145 tenants.

However, the Tenant Farmers Association said it had received a number of “well-informed” but unsubstantiated reports that indicated the council was considering a U-turn on its policy to retain this land, and a significant amount or all of it could be sold.

“It would be madness for the local authority to consider disposal,” TFA chief executive George Dunn said. “If the reports are true, the new policy would be contrary to allI have understood about Norfolk’s policy towards its county farms over a number of years. Indeed, this spring the County Council’s cabinet accepted a report from its scrutiny committee which stressed the importance of the county farms estate, not only to the farming community but to the wider community within Norfolk,” he added.

But councillor Tony Williams, who manages the County Farms portfolio, said Norfolk County Council was not planning a wholesale sell off of its farmland, although he acknowledged it was “looking again at policies, including that for county farms”.

“We have little choice, because of the shockingly grim outlook for public service funding that all councils face as a result of the economic downturn,” he said in a statement. “Norfolk taxpayers expect us to leave no stone unturned in our search for savings to protect frontline services over the coming years.

“I am very sorry that our farm tenants may have been upset unnecessarily by speculation about Norfolk County Council’s intentions for its farms estate. However, it is not true that we are planning any complete U-turn for county farms through a wholesale sell off.”

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