If Somerset County Council goes ahead with selling off its farms estate they face a tsunami of public opposition.
With locals saying they will lie in the road to stop bailiffs, campaigners say the first three tenants are being asked to leave by March 2011 and protesters are trying to persuade the Tory-run council to stop their review of its farms to rent. Dozens of protesters are due to lobby a council meeting in Taunton but they’re concerned that the authority is dictated by only two or three cabinet members meaning it could be hard to turn the situation around.
The council is in debt by a colossal £400 million and wants to start making a serious effort in reducing this. Casting its eyes over its largest assets, the farms to rent are high on the list, worth around £40 million altogether.
David Huxtable, cabinet member for resources, said: “We understand the concerns of the tenants and have heard their voices. We want to assure tenants that we will look sympathetically at each farm to rent on a case-by-case basis, considering any issues that they have.
“We have to make tough decisions as it’s tough times we’re in. Somerset County Council is looking at all our spending and has to make difficult choices.
“A £40 million asset, which actually lost money last year, for the benefit of just 70 families looks like a huge subsidy. It’s nice to do, but we can’t afford it.”
But campaign leader, Michael Fry said the council will be pressured to give a 12-month extension to the first tenants, expected this September. In March these tenants were notified the landlord rental agreements would not automatically be renewed because the council needed to review their property to rent portfolio before making any decisions on renewals.
Mr Fry said: “It will be grossly unfair if, in September, they are given just six months to get out. At the very least, they should be given 12 months’ grace to find somewhere else to live and make arrangement for their animals. And the council is going to find itself very unpopular if, come March, it decides to send in the bailiffs.”
Selling off the farms would be a disaster for this traditional farming community and also for the sustainability of the area. There have apparently been enquiries from interested potential buyers but campaigners say that once the farms are sold, they will never get them back and the community will sadly be changed forever.