Council pledges to safeguard future of Norfolk County Farms estate

Councillor Ian Mackie.

Councillor Ian Mackie.

Council farm tenants in Norfolk have been reassured that there are no plans to sell the 'family silver' by cashing in on the sale value of the 16,000-acre county estate.

About 50 people attended the annual tenants' meeting at County Hall in Norwich to discuss policy changes agreed by Norfolk County Council for its land holdings, comprising 71 estates managed by 150 tenants.

Ian Mackie, the chairman of the cross-party County Farms Advisory Board, said the estate had generated an income of £1.86m in 2014-15, offsetting £1.24m invested on estate management and improvements, and leaving a surplus of £620,000 for the authority.

And it was that ability to create revenue, as well as providing opportunities for new and expanding farm businesses to grow, which led to the policy decision that the county farms will not reduce in size – despite farmland in the region valued as high as £15,000 per acre.

That commitment was reinforced by council leader George Nobbs, who said: 'It is not just the land we value, it is you, the tenants, who run the farms.'


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Mr Mackie said: 'The future of the county estate is brighter than it has been for many decades.

'We could sell it off as the council has done in the past and make a quick capital receipt, but we would lose the opportunity to make revenue – and it is revenue that is key to the finances of any local authority.

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'Clearly the door to the family silver cabinet is firmly locked. Hopefully that certainty will enable us to build greater trust with our tenants and partners. Investment by our tenants and ourselves needs to be based on a platform of stability.

'The county farms estate also provides one of a very few routes for new entrants to access the market. Some people have the money for the necessary capital investment, but they may not be able to afford the land. So it is an economic driver for bringing people into this special sector of the county's economy.'

The new advisory board will review development plans and investment strategies for each tenant, and another goal is to encourage larger farms to support employment and training opportunities.

One idea discussed at the meeting was that apprentices could 'shadow' a more experienced farmer who may be retiring or coming to the end of their tenancy. Mr Mackie said the council is also looking at the possibility of opening a farm shop to sell food produced from across the estate, with a site off the A47 near Cantley discussed as a possible venue.

Are you a potential first-generation farmer looking for a way into the industry? Contact chris.hill@archant.co.uk.

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