A tenant farmer has slammed her county council landlord for its ‘cowardly’ approach to dealing with the farm’s sale and subsequent eviction notice.
Sue Osborne, a Conservative district councillor from Somerset, whose husband rents a Somerset County Council-owned farm, claimed tenants were being punished to deter others from attempting to buy the land for agriculture.
“The point of this is the moral cowardice and bankruptcy of the type shown by Somerset Council,” Mrs Osborne said.
“We found out [about the eviction] in the worst possible way which was in big red letters at the top of an email that our application had not been awarded.”
Local authorities have sold off more than 1,000 agricultural holdings in the last 10 years.
Somerset Council announced a policy to dispose of its farm holdings in 2010 but promised to review the policy last year, giving tenants including Mr and Mrs Osborne hope of a reprieve.
Tenant Farmers Association chief executive George Dunn expressed his disappointment at what he called a ‘heartless’ decision by the council not to offer an extension of the Farm Business Tenancy (FBT).
He said: “Unlike those tenants who were occupying under secure agreements regulated by the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986, many of whom have been able to negotiate reasonable discounts to freehold values to purchase their holdings, Mr Osborne and other tenants occupying on FBT agreements were not given the same opportunity.
"It is very disappointing the council does not appreciate the human cost of the decisions it is taking.”
A Somerset Council spokesman said: “Although we understand the current tenants do not wish to leave, they have known of the change of policy since 2010 and we have honoured their fixed-term tenancy in full."
Defra’s recent Local Authority Smallholdings Report showed councils in England sold off 846 hectares (2,090 acres) of land between April 2016 and March 2017.
Defra said the report showed council farms continued to play an important role in the tenanted agricultural sector, covering about 87,000ha (214,980 acres) of agricultural land providing 2,502 holdings for 2,053 tenant farmers.
Statistics showed the reporting smallholding authorities generated a revenue account net surplus of almost £16 million in 2016/17.