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Shropshire's small farms set to go up for sale

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Smallholdings used to help Shropshire farmers break in to the industry could be sold off to the highest bidder in a cost-cutting move to save money.

Shropshire Council's 18 remaining smallholdings are likely to be sold off on the open market.

It means families living on the farms face an uncertain future.

The council changed its policy on smallholdings earlier this year to allow both tenants and their direct descendants to purchase the 18 properties, which total more than 400 hectares.

Families have been given first refusal on the smallholdings until the end of May. But in documents which will be published for consultation next month, the council says it then intends to maximise income by selling to the highest bidder.

The council says it is being forced to sell the rest because of spiralling costs of repairs and maintenance.

In a report, the council says: "Rents are linked to the earnings potential of each holding. Against modern standards the sizes of the holdings are small.

"There is therefore no further scope to offset costs of repairs and maintenance which exceed income from rents.

"The fact that the holdings are too small to carry out even subsistence farming, has resulted in the council's preferred action being a disposal of the remaining estate."

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As part of its consultation, which will begin on May 3, the council will put forward two options – selling the estate to the highest bidder in lots or as a whole, or selling it to an organisation wanting to maintain the estate and secure access to farming for future generations.

Currently, the council prefers the first option which it said would be likely to generate the highest amount of capital for the council.

It added that the buyer may be able to "go further" than the council with addressing maintenance of the estate.

On the second option, the council says: "The future of farming in the county will be secured if additional land could be acquired to increase the size of each holding.

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"The tenant's position will remain the same as the council has the ability to agree the terms of the agreement with a preferred landlord based on the consultation feedback."

The plans today raised concerns from the farming community as many of the smallholdings are used by 'start-up' farmers.

Oliver Cartwright, NFU spokesman, said: "While agriculture can often be a difficult industry to break into without significant amounts of capital, the county farms system is an invaluable route for new entrants who have the drive and ability to forge a career and succeed in what is a highly competitive environment.

"The NFU fed members' views into the consultation back in 2014 and the farming community has made its feelings very clear ever since.

"While we understand there are pressures on council budgets we have always urged that council-owned holdings are not viewed as a balance sheet asset, to be sold for short term benefit and that these farms be seen as a valuable resource that can provide income over the long term."

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