Somerset

Somerset's council farms could be sold off

Farmers queue outside County Hall, Taunton
Image caption More than 120 people queued to attend the meeting at County Hall

Every council-owned farm in Somerset could be sold off under plans approved by the administration.

Somerset owns 62 farms and county councillors were told it needed to sell some or all the estate to fill a £400m black hole in its budget.

At a packed meeting in Taunton, tenant farmers and their supporters accused the county council of "selling off the family silver".

However, councillors agreed to consider sales on a case-by-case basis.

Bay Bardwell, of Somerset Federation of Young Farmers, told the meeting: "We believe that the selling off of these farms would be a short-term solution.

"Selling the family silver is not the solution in the long-term."

A parish councillor from Donyatt, near Chard - where many council farms are located - told the meeting at County Hall: "Farming is not what Donyatt does, it's what Donyatt is."

A 1,000-signature petition opposing the sales plan was handed to councillors.

'Tough decision'

The county sold much of its farming estate in two rafts of sales in 1983 and 2003.

However, the remaining properties were always considered "core" to the farm portfolio and therefore immune to such pressure.

Councillor Dave Huxtable told the protesters he was sorry if many thought they had not been consulted about the change.

However, he said the sales had to be considered as Somerset was "simply running out of money".

"The third biggest bill this council faces is to pay off debt interest of £35m a year. These are tough times and we are facing up to tough decisions," he added.

The Tory-controlled authority believes it can raise up to £40m from its farms.

The council's Cabinet voted to hold a two-month review looking at all the farms it owns, before deciding whether to make them commercially available once their tenancies expire.

The meeting also agreed to explore the sale of 20 council offices around Somerset.

Somerset has already announced deep cuts to its roads programme, as well as the axing of projects such as Taunton's park and ride extension.

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