A last minute reprieve for tenants renting farms from Somerset County Council could be on the cards after councillors agreed to open a review into ongoing sell-offs.
Since 2010, it has been the council’s policy to ditch its county farms, and it was feared the process would be accelerated by a recent change to national rules which allowed councils to use money made from the sale of assets in a more flexible way.
But following a hard fight from Sue Osborne, whose husband’s farm was listed for disposal, and her local county councillor, Linda Vijeh, the council has backed down and offered to review the 2010 policy.
After a close 3-2 vote, it was also agreed all planned sell-offs would be suspended until the review was complete.
Sue Osborne, who is also a Conservative district councillor, said: “The bottom line is, we are in the last chance saloon to make a change of policy and save these farms. Whether we will get a change of policy, I really do not know.
“If the council disposes of this tranche of farms, it will be taking its estate below the critical mass of viability, when its rent roll will drop to such a level that it will not cover the liabilities.
“It is now up to groups like the Tenant Farmers’ Association (TFA) to present evidence of the benefits of the County Farms Estate.”
The TFA, which has been actively involved in the case since 2010, has welcomed the decision to set up a review.
Chief executive George Dunn said: “The TFA will be working to ensure the needs of the remaining tenant farmers are respected and the council carries out its review both professionally and in a way which gives tenants a voice to be able to speak about their desires for the future of the estate.
“County farms are important assets, not just for local authorities, but for the nation. They must not be allowed to disappear on the basis of political whim.
“Central Government has a role to play to ensure local authorities are managing these estates appropriately within the context of providing best value to local council tax payers.”