Shropshire Star

Council 'could lose £3.3 million' if motion to ban sale of County Farms goes through

A motion to stop Powys County Council from selling off more county farms would cost the authority just under £3.3m, a report has revealed.

County Hall in Llandrindod Wells. Photo: Google

At a council meeting on Thursday, December 7, councillors are expected to debate a motion that stops the controversial practice until new rules are put in place.

The motion follows the issues surrounding the sale of 218 acres of the council’s farm estate in the village of Leighton near Welshpool which was revealed in September.

The buyers are believed to be Welshpool-based waste and recycling firm Potters, said to be willing to offer £5 million for the land - above the valuation of £4.13 million.

The report was discussed by the Liberal Democrat/Labour cabinet in a confidential session and due to a lack of transparency and scrutiny of the proposal has been criticised by opposition councillors ever since.

Conservative Councillor Amanda Jenner is expected to place the motion in front of councillors which will be seconded by Councillor Gareth D Jones of the Independent group.

Councillor Jenner said: “We call on the council to ask cabinet to immediately refrain from considering any future proposals in the current financial year for farm sales pending approval by full council of a county farms policy that has been properly scrutinised and includes a transparent and specific disposal/sales policy in respect of farms and farm property owned by the council.”

The reasons behind the motion according to Councillor Jenner are: “The ongoing uncertainty being caused to all County Farm tenants is impacting their ability to effectively plan for their future business, livelihoods, and housing needs."

Councillor Jenner also believed that the lack of a “transparent policy” on farm sales is bringing the council to “disrepute".

She adds that there is a belief that without a “transparent and scrutinised policy” decisions might be taken that don’t provide “best value” or the “best use” of council resources.

All motions to the council need to be accompanied by a financial assessment of the proposal.

Over the last three-year period the council has made £2.875 million from the “rationalisation of farms and farmland” with another £406,000 coming this year up to the end of October.

The report also says that £5.275 million in sales has also been approved.

The report said: “If approved this motion will prevent the release of the estimated £3.357 million of capital receipts from currently unoccupied farms, whilst maintaining and in some cases increasing the council’s liability for these properties as a number are not in a condition to the re-let or would not make viable businesses going forward due their size.”

Using the money raised through sales instead of borrowing to fund the council’s building programme would save an estimated £201,000 a year and provide an overall saving on borrowing of over £10 million over a 50-year period.

The report explains that if councillors agree to the motion the local authority would impact the council’s ability to deal with future properties that become vacant.

The report said: “Having vacant/surplus properties unoccupied incurs costs to the council to maintain them.

“Insurance, Council Tax and regular inspections to ensure they remain safe and secure would continue if sales cannot be progressed.

“There is also the risk of damage to vacant properties, vandalism, leaks and other damage, especially during the winter months.

“The financial challenge facing the council in the next few years cannot be underestimated and to change policy independently now without considering the wider implications of the full budget proposal is not advised.”