Shropshire Star

£500,000 decision for council to stop running Acton Scott historic farm suspended

Shropshire Council's £500,000 decision to no longer run one of the county's oldest visitor attractions has been suspended.

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Shropshire Council will no longer run the Acton Scott Historic Working Farm

The council agreed to surrender the lease for Acton Scott Historic Working Farm, near Church Stretton, which it has operated for the last 47 years.

However a call-in request was submitted and has been accepted, which in effect suspends the decision. The council's scrutiny committee will now make the decision and it is likely to be discussed with the press and public exempt.

The call-in request was made by the Shropshire Lib Dems. They said the marketing and publicity of Acton Scott is "poor and almost non-existent", and added: "The value of the enterprise to the local economy is vastly undervalued."

They said: "We understand there is a need to negotiate with the landowner on how the area is run and an alternative business plan explored. We understand discussion and need for an agreement forms part of the present lease. There is a need to adopt a more commercial approach and we are sure that this could be negotiated with good will from all sides.

"We note that the landowner has stated they will use their best endeavours to keep the farm as an ongoing public enterprise with the obvious local economy advantages but no guarantee is made.

"Approaches should be made to local business and local parish/town councils to ask if any help could be given in maintain this enterprise both in the short term and long term."

The council has confirmed that the move to exit the lease, which has 16 years left to run, will cost the authority “in excess of £500,000”.

Acton Scott Historic Working Farm, which demonstrates historic farming techniques, has been closed since June last year.

The decision was made to return the lease to the landowner, The Acton Scott Estate, which has said it will keep people informed of plans for the site, and when it will reopen.

Councillor Rob Gittins, Shropshire Council’s cabinet member responsible for culture, said the site was losing £168,000 a year – costing the authority £8.40 per visitor.

Shropshire Council held a public consultation on its future and the recommendation to surrender the lease was approved at the council’s cabinet meeting on December 14.

After the decision was made, a statement from the council said: “The settlement allows the owners to invest in the essential infrastructure improvements required to support endeavours to open a new historic attraction.”

Councillor Gittins said: “Shropshire Council has always placed great value on Acton Scott Historic Working Farm, recognising its importance socially, educationally and in terms of the visitor economy, and we know that it is held in great regard by the public.

“Unfortunately, along with many other local authorities Shropshire Council is facing additional pressures on its budgets, and with the attraction operating at a deficit of £168,000 per annum, the Shropshire taxpayer has been subsidising the running costs of the farm at a cost of £8.40 per visitor.

“The decision to surrender the lease, which still has 16 years left to run, has been reached after many months of deliberation and negotiation with the estate."

It was anticipated the surrender of the lease would take effect from the end of the financial year, in March 2023.

A Shropshire Council spokesman said: "All decisions made by the Cabinet can be subject to 'call-in', where members who are not part of the Cabinet are given the opportunity to challenge a decision made by the Executive (Cabinet) as a whole or by Executive Members.

"If this happens, the Cabinet or individual Member may have to reconsider their decision. This is a standard part of the democratic process.

"On Friday 23 December, councillors sought to ‘call in’ the cabinet decision on Acton Scott Working Farm of 14 December for further scrutiny.

"Councillor Claire Wild, as Chair of Shropshire’s Performance Management Scrutiny Committee, has agreed to accept the call-in notice received which has met the simple threshold required for further review of the decision.

"There is already a meeting of this committee being held on 11th January to examine budget matters. A further special meeting of the committee will therefore be convened as soon as possible after that date, to hear this call-in."