The Council was slammed for its ‘heartbreaking and shortsighted decision’ to sell off the whole it its smallholdings estate.
Herefordshire Council has been criticised after failing to disclose sections of a report which highlighted advice to sell only part of its farms estate and enable a ‘continued means for first generation farmers to enter the industry’.
A complaint from the NFU on the council’s ‘heart breaking and short-sighted’ decision forced the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) to request the information, previously withheld for its ‘commercial sensitivity’, after the sale of its entire estate affected about 45 farming families.
Its cabinet agreed the sale of all its tenant farms in December 2015.
George Dunn, chief executive of the Tenant Farmers Association (TFA), said he was ‘bitterly disappointed’ and the council should ‘hang their head in shame’.
“Our position is that the council handled the decision around county farms very badly since day one, and I must point out that no holdings have actually been filled yet,” he said.
“Anthony Johnson, the council leader at the time of the decision, gave certain assurances and convinced us the sale was not about kicking families out of the farms but rather about a new landlord.
“But every single one of his promises has been reneged upon.”
At the time of the cabinet meeting in December 2015, Mr Johnson said the tenants deserved ‘better landlords’ and a change in ownership could actually benefit farmers.
But Mr Dunn said the council overlooked advice to retain, rationalise and better manage the land and instead chose to ‘bury and ditch’ the Fisher German report saying it formed no part of their consideration.
NFU deputy president Minette Batters echoed the claims and said evidence from the report had provided vindication for the affected tenant farmers.
She said: “We can only hope that, following this latest revelation in Herefordshire, the council takes a long, hard look at how it is treating its tenant farmers; many of whom are facing the devastating loss of both their livelihoods and their homes."