Updated 5th December 2018 after amendment re-tabled ahead of Report Stage.
A new amendment to the Agriculture Bill has been tabled that raises hopes for saving the nation’s County Farms.
County Farms are a vital ‘first rung on the farming ladder’ for young and cash-poor farmers – comprising smallholdings owned by councils and leased out to tenant farmers, often at below-market rates. They’re the legacy of an earlier era of land reform when Victorian politicians like Joseph Chamberlain campaigned for landless farmers to be given ‘three acres and a cow’. Yet, as Who Owns England has previously revealed, the extent of England’s County Farms estate has halved since the 1970s as they’ve been flogged off by cash-strapped councils.
But hope springs eternal. Who Owns England has been working with various groups, including Sustain, Shared Assets, and the Landworkers’ Alliance, to get a County Farms amendment tabled to the Agriculture Bill currently passing through Parliament.
The amendment, NC9, is reproduced in full below. In a nutshell, it would help save County Farms from being sold off and rejuvenate their purpose, in two ways. Firstly, it would require councils to submit a report to the Environment Secretary saying how they will make best use of their County Farms (‘smallholdings estates’) to support new entrants into farming and promote sustainable agriculture. Secondly, it would prevent councils from selling off County Farms unless they could show that disposal was in line with these objectives.
Crucially, this is about rejuvenating the purpose of County Farms as well as stopping them from being flogged off. County Farms have a real potential to become beacons of sustainable agriculture post-Brexit: pioneering new Environmental Land Management Schemes, providing fresh food for local schools and hospitals, and reconnecting people to farming and nature. But central and local government needs to recognise the importance of County Farms, now, not just let them be frittered away through further sales.
Please help save County Farms: contact your MP urging them to add their name to amendment NC9. You can find your MP’s contact details easily here. If you can speak to them in person, over the phone or at a constituency surgery meeting, so much the better. We don’t have long – MPs are set to vote on the Bill before the end of November.
County Farms: amendment NC9 to the Agriculture Bill
Ahead of Report Stage of the Agriculture Bill, Sir Hugo Swire MP has tabled this amendment as New Clause 9 (NC9) – see p.6 of this Bill document.
This amendment was initially tabled during Committee Stage by shadow front bench MPs David Drew and Sue Hayman (NC27 on p.42 of this Bill document.)
“Smallholdings estates: land management
(1) Every smallholdings authority which immediately before the commencement of Part 1 of this Act holds any land for the purposes of smallholdings shall review the authority’s smallholdings estate and shall, before the end of the period of eighteen months beginning with the commencement of Part 1 of this Act, submit to the Secretary of State proposals with respect to the future management of that estate for the purposes of providing—
(a) opportunities for persons to be farmers on their own account;
(b) education or experience in environmental land management practices;
(c) opportunities for increasing public access to the natural environment and understanding of sustainable farming; and
(d) opportunities for innovation in sustainable land management practices.
(2) No land held by a smallholdings authority as a smallholding immediately before commencement of Part 1 of this Act is to be conveyed, transferred, leased or otherwise disposed of otherwise than—
(a) in connection with the purposes listed in subsection (1); and
(b) in accordance with proposals submitted under subsection (1).
(3) For the purposes of this section, “smallholdings authority” has the same meaning as in section 38 of the Agriculture Act 1970.”