Council owned farms should be sold to save money, according to Lib Dems

10:54 31 January 2014

Election of Chairman and Leader for Cambridgeshire County Council. Cllr Maurice Leeke.

Election of Chairman and Leader for Cambridgeshire County Council. Cllr Maurice Leeke.

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Council-owned tenant farms across the Fens should be sold as part of a plan to protect vital front line services, according to Cambridgeshire’s Liberal Democrats.

A tractor at workA tractor at work

The idea to sell county-wide farms would make savings of around £100m which would be used to run children’s centres, improve roads, run mental health services and provide community transport.

There are 216 farm tenants on 111,000 hectares of land across the county making the Cambridgeshire estate the largest in the UK.

The farms earn £3.7m in rent each year and are worked by tenants ranging from 23 to 93 years old.

The plan has been put forward as part of the Lib Dems’ annual budget proposals which include selling the county council’s energy inefficient headquarters at Shire Hall to raise £7.5 million and cutting £100,000 from its inflated communications’ budget.

On top of the sale price, the move would generate around £16 million worth of savings for the council in the next four years.

Cambridgeshire Lib Dem Leader, Maurice Leeke said: “Our budget looks beyond the front line services for savings so that we can protect the vulnerable and the services they rely on, particularly preventative services which improve lives and save money in the long run.

“We want to make sure people can get around by improving roads, pavements and cycleways while maintaining rural bus and community transport services. We also want to preserve concessions on Park and Ride buses, support new rail infrastructure and complete the Chisholm Trail so we can combat congestion and poor air quality.

“We believe that proper investment in a child’s early years is critical to their long-term happiness and success. That is why we view the current Conservative proposals to reduce the services offered by Children’s Centres with great concern.”

Over the next two years Lib Dems would invest £1.3m in children’s centres, just over £1m in bus subsidies, £400,000 in community transport and £1m in highways and winter maintenance.

Some land would be excluded from the transfer if there were a real prospect of it being sold off at significantly above the agricultural value of where it is being used by the county council for other purposes for around £100m.

Council owned farms are often the first rung on the ladder for new entrants to farming and 80 new entrants have joined the Estate since 1998.

As well as financial benefits the Estate has been used to open public access to the countryside with miles of new bridleways and footpaths, to improve the landscape with new woods and hedges and to protect biodiversity and archaeology.

In the last 15 years more than 80 new tenants have started on the Estate, with 13 new starts in 2013 alone.

Tenant farmers are encouraged to be innovative and diversify their incomes and in addition to farming tenants have developed tree maintenance businesses, horse liveries, building and construction, farm shops, children’s nurseries and caravan sites.

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