Report to Cabinet Scrutiny
29 September 2009
Item No 6ii
Update on Progress Regarding the
Recommended Changes to the
Norfolk County Council
County Farms Policy
Report by the Group Managing Director
NPS Property Consultants Ltd
This report updates on progress being made with regard to
implementation of the recommendations made by the
Cabinet Scrutiny Working Group in September 2008.
1.1 In September 2008, a working group nominated by the Cabinet
Scrutiny Committee published a comprehensive report on Norfolk
County Council’s County Farms policy.
1.2 At the end of the report, a series of recommendations were made with
regard to the management of the County Council’s Rural Estate.
1.3 This report tracks the work that has been done since then to
implement the recommendations.
1.4 However, as this year's Budget Report and successive Cabinet
performance monitoring reports have noted, since September 2008 the
financial context in which this Council is required to work has changed
dramatically for the worse as a consequence of the recession. The
outlook for public service funding across the board is dire and widely
recognised by Authorities across the country as now
requiring Councils to plan to do more with far less.
1.5 The analysis forecast for Norfolk County Council shows that this
Authority will need to save at least a further £140m over the coming
1.6 In the light of this forecasting, this Authority, like others, is examining
all policy areas as part of its financial management strategy. The
revised policy for County Farms will necessarily fall within such a re-
1.7 In addition, since the County Council elections in June 2009, the
County Farms portfolio has passed to a new Cabinet Member.
Councillor Tony Williams is now responsible for reviewing the whole of
the property portfolio in light of the greatly depressed economic
climate. It is possible, therefore, that should the policy change, some
of the recommendations will need to change also and Committee
Members are asked to bear that in mind.
1.8 Any revised policy will, when prepared, be subject to Cabinet
agreement and therefore open to further scrutiny at a later date.
2.0 Recommendation 1
2.1 The Estate should become an exemplar of innovation, investment
and partnership working in the interests of tenants, local
communities and present and future generations of Norfolk
2.2 A lot of work is ongoing to develop various strands of activity relating to
the County Farms Estate and these are outlined below.
2.3 Discussions have been held with the Norfolk Rural Business Advice
Service (NRBAS) and ADAS, the UK’s largest independent provider of
environmental consultancy, rural development services and policy
advice, to explore issues involving innovation, partnership, waste,
energy, local food, training and funding.
2.4 The Rural Estates Team has been working closely with Children’s
Services to identify opportunities for individual County farms to help
schools and colleges deliver diplomas for 14-19 year olds that have an
outdoor learning element.
For example, Clinks Farm at Haddisoe has been accepted by Easton
College as a suitable site for the delivery of its Environmental and Land
Based Diplomas, which will involve 35 students from Easton College
and 16 from Lowestoft College.
2.5 Assistance has been given to West Norfolk MIND, an organisation that
promotes positive mental health and social inclusion within the
community, to develop its Community Allotment programme at Hill
2.6 A guided woodland walk for the public has been held on the
Burlingham Estate led by Professor Tom Williamson from the UEA and
Dr Gerry Barnes, Norfolk County Council’s Environment Manager.
2.7 Students at Easton College have been given access to the Burlingham
woodland as a training resource for tree surgery.
2.8 Tenants within a 25 mile radius of Cantley have been canvassed for
their support for a co-operative grain store being developed at a local
3.0 Recommendation 2
3.1 Optimising capital receipts should no longer be the principal
priority for the management of the Estate.
3.2 This change to the policy has been adopted and enquirers are being
told there are currently no properties available for disposal.
4.0 Recommendation 3
4.1 Future priorities should be aimed at maximising the use of the
Estate in meeting those objectives which are other than the
purely financial one of land disposal for cash. Some of these
have already been identified whilst others may be agreed in the
4.2 In general, opportunities to deliver non-financial objectives will be
identified through the Strategic Review of each Estate, for example the
recent Mautby Estate Review, although some may be identified
through wider initiatives such as affordable housing.
4.3 More specifically, the following proposals are currently being explored:
i) Discussions are underway with Norfolk County Council’s
department for Environment, Transport and Development to
improve public access on the Burlingham Estate.
ii) Easton College students have been given access to Burlingham
Woods for tree surgery practice.
iii) Discussions are underway with Norfolk County Council’s
department for Environment, Transport and Development
regarding the development of bio ethanol production and energy
iv) Opportunities to make energy from agricultural waste products
are being explored with ADAS.
v) The possibility of using the Estate for the production of Biogas is
being considered by Mott MacDonald in its Biogas Feasibility
Study and support is being given to the Council’s bid for EU
funding in this regard.
vi) Farms are to be included in the “Pathways to Production”
project led by the Department for Environment, Transport and
Development to consider biogas production sources for use in
Norfolk County Council’s bus fleet and to enable the Council to
be less dependent on oil and the National Grid.
vii) Hill Farm at Stow is being considered by West Norfolk MIND as
a possible ‘care farm’ and educational resource centre.
viii) Discussions are underway to consider how the County Farms
Estate can contribute to delivering the County Council’s targets
on carbon reduction.
• Increased broad-leaved tree planting
• Wind tubines
• Micro generation
• Combined heat and power
• Improved insulation
5.0 Recommendation 4
5.1 Long-term objectives should show a clear commitment to new
entrants, career progression for tenants and leadership within the
5.2 This commitment will be demonstrated mainly through proposals in the
Strategic Reviews of various sections of the Estate as they take place.
5.3 The Fresh Start Initiative run by the Department for Environment, Food
and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has recently been discussed at the national
Association of Chief Estates Surveyors and Property Managers in the
Public Sector (ACES) meeting. The conclusion reached was that in
order to provide opportunities for new entrants to farming, a way had
first to be found to enable older tenants to retire with dignity.
5.4 Discussions have taken place with NRBAS around the issues of new
entrants, retirement and progression, and training needs which might
be met by the services of Easton College.
6.0 Recommendation 5
6.1 Management of the Estate should reflect a positive regard for the
interests and views of its tenants, as well as to “the general
interests of agriculture and of good estate management”
(Agriculture Act 1970).
6.2 All tenants are consulted on the options for the future structure of each
Estate and their views and aspirations are incorporated into the
Strategic Review, together with an assessment of Estate management
7.0 Recommendation 6
7.1 Whilst consolidation of some farms into larger units may be
necessary to ensure their future viability, the general aim should
be to maximise the number and diversity of smallholdings.
Diversification and other initiatives to support incomes should be
7.2 The aim of diversifying the size range of holdings on the Estate has
been adopted in the Strategic Review process, for example the Mautby
7.3 As agriculture has contracted over the years, diversification has long
been encouraged on Norfolk farms.
8.0 Recommendation 7
8.1 Detailed Management Strategy Plans for each part of the Estate
should cover the next ten years and beyond. They should reflect
the new vision and priorities for the Estate, and be reviewed every
8.2 As they are undertaken, each Strategic Review will reflect the new
vision and priorities.
9.0 Recommendation 8
9.1 The development of the Management Strategy Plans should be
regarded as a priority for delivering the new vision for the Estate
and should be outsourced to provide a detached view from the
day-to-day management of the Estate.
9.2 Although progress on the associated Recommendation 33 is still
awaited, Management Strategy Plans have been produced and
agreed by Members for the following:
• Mautby Estate
• Attleborough Estate
• Bacton Estate
10.0 Recommendation 9
10.1 The Management Strategy Plans should be based on detailed
assessments of location, soil quality, condition and suitability of
infrastructure for each part of the Estate, and should include
targets, a monitoring process and investment plans.
10.2 The Strategic Reviews already cover much of this and will be
developed to incorporate additional detail. Investment needs will be
identified so that they can be prioritised.
11.0 Recommendation 10
11.1 Disposals in future should only be considered in terms of selling
to invest back into the Estate, or further rationalisation, and
should be neutral in terms of the total land assets of the Estate.
11.2 This change in policy has been adopted and applied to any enquiries
12.0 Recommendation 11
12.1 The retained Estate should remain at an absolute minimum of
16,000 acres, subject to the provision in recommendation 13
regarding affordable housing.
12.2 The Estate currently extends to 16,237.40 acres so in order to fulfil this
recommendation (among others) disposals have been put on hold.
12.3 Talks are currently underway with Saffron Housing to deliver
affordable housing on County Farms land at Bergh Apton on behalf of
South Norfolk District Council. A report is due to be considered by
Members in August recommending the sale of approximately half an
acre for the provision of 6 housing plots.
12.4 Discussions have also been held with the Chair of the Parish Council
and Circle Anglia with regard to an affordable housing development at
13.0 Recommendation 12
13.0 There should be a moratorium on further land disposals until the
proposed Management Strategy Plans are available.
13.1 Any exceptions, such as sites for affordable housing, will be referred to
Members for consultation.
14.0 Recommendation 13
14.1 Any future disposals should be restricted to property that has
been identified as being surplus in the Management Strategy
Plans or where a price markedly above market value can be
obtained. In either case, the proceeds should be shared, with
25% of capital and revenue receipts being re-invested in the
Estate, including the purchase of additional land to maintain or
increase the overall size of the Estate. The only exception to this
should be the use of land for affordable housing, in which case a
net disposal of land (as opposed to effective exchange) should
14.2 As indicated elsewhere above, the new policy has been adopted and
any proposals for disposals or acquisitions will be discussed with
14.2 A schedule of capital receipts/revenue is to be developed and
investment needs and opportunities are to be identified, prioritised and
14.3 To this end, discussions have been held regarding the implementation
of new maintenance funding, a separate budget has been set up for
County Farms maintenance items and a dedicated Building Surveyor
within NPS has been allocated to deal with maintenance issues on the
15.0 Recommendation 14
15.1 There should be an assumption that sitting tenants should always
have first refusal and reasonable preferential treatment in such
15.2 The potential for declaring land/property surplus will be identified in the
Strategic Review process taking into account the requirement to
maintain the overall size of the Estate above 16,000 acres.
16.0 Recommendation 15
16.1 Tenants should be adequately compensated if part of their land is
16.2 Terms are negotiated with tenants to achieve the timely surrender of
land to allow sale with vacant possession and reported to Members for
17.0 Recommendation 16
17.1 There should be a programme of investment to ensure that
infrastructure (including drainage systems where needed) is fit
for purpose and properly maintained.
17.2 A schedule of prioritised investments and funds available will be
developed to allow planned investment to take place each year.
17.3 Letters have been sent to Tenants within 25 miles of Cantley to
establish interest in a co-operative grain storage facility being
developed there by A Dewings.
18.0 Recommendation 17
18.1 There should also be a programme of funding to support meeting
the objectives of the Estate, including financial incentives and
training for tenants to enable them to participate in new ways of
working (as recommended in the Best Value Review 2001).
18.2 The County Council would need to decide upon a programme of
funding to fulfil this recommendation.
18.3 Discussions have been held with NRBAS on training which could be
provided and part funded under Landskills East at Easton College.
18.4 Training needs will be identified by consultation with the Tenants.
19.0 Recommendation 18
19.1 In order to give tenants more security and incentive to invest in
their businesses, tenancies for twenty years should be the norm,
with an absolute minimum of ten years.
19.2 Strategic Reviews will set out the planned future structure for
tenancies in a particular part of the Estate and other cases will be
referred to Members as necessary on a case-by-case basis.
20.0 Recommendation 19
20.1 There should be clear criteria for allocating and renewing
tenancies, including those on additional land. These criteria
should include a willingness and ability to embrace new
initiatives which support the wider objectives of the Estate.
20.2 Strategic Reviews will set out the planned future structure and as in 19
above, other cases will be referred to Members to decide in
accordance with agreed criteria. These criteria should also include a
record of the willingness of a tenant to co-operate with the Landlord
and neighbouring Tenants, and his/her community involvement.
21.0 Recommendation 20
21.1 When tenants retire, first consideration should be given to
succession by one or more of their children, where requested, on
the condition that they have been directly involved in the
business and are successfully assessed against the agreed
criteria for new entrants.
21.2 Cases will be referred to Members for consideration as they occur.
22.0 Recommendation 21
22.1 Where farms are jointly worked by couples, this should be
reflected in their holding a joint tenancy.
22.2 Any requests will be referred to Members for consideration.
23.0 Recommendation 22
23.1 There should be lower rents for new tenants in the early years to
help with start-up costs. The exact level should reflect the quality
of the infrastructure.
23.2 New tenants will be invited to submit offers of rent when applying for a
holding and these rents will be based on the income they plan to
generate on the holding based on land quality and infrastructure.
Applications will be considered by Members with advice from Officers.
24.0 Recommendation 23
24.1 Rent should be reduced to compensate for obstacles to
productivity such as drainage problems or inadequate storage
24.2 Existing rents already reflect known problems but if new problems
arise, a rent reduction will be discussed with the Tenant as an option if
the problem cannot be dealt with in the short-term.
25.0 Recommendation 24
25.1 There should be a Steering Group comprising members, key
internal and external partners (e.g. Planning and Transportation,
Economic Development Team, Children’s Services, Adult
Education, Norfolk Rural Business Advice Service, Norfolk
Smallholders Training Group, Easton College, tenants with
relevant experience) to oversee the implementation of new
Norfolk County Council policies and with the remit to keep the
policies up to date and to report to the Corporate Affairs
Overview and Scrutiny Panel on a regular basis.
25.2 The constitutional implications of this recommendation have been the
subject of consideration by Norfolk County Council’s Legal Services
and Democratic Services. The suggested way forward is to combine
the Steering Group with the Panel detailed in Recommendation 30, the
resultant Group comprising:
• 4 Conservative Members (including the Cabinet Member)
• 1 Liberal-Democrat Member
• 2 Tenant representatives
25.3 The above would be supported by Officers from the Department of
Environment, Transport and Development, Children’s Services, Adult
Social Services and NPS. Additional representation from NRBAS, the
Norfolk Smallholder’s Training Group and Easton College could be
called upon as necessary.
25.4 The Group would meet quarterly, in advance of the Property Advisory
Panel, and make recommendations to the Cabinet Member.
25.5 The first meeting of this County Farms Steering Group would agree
the Terms of Reference but the Group would not have executive
26.0 Recommendation 25
26.1 The land agents for the Estate need to have an understanding of
tenants’ individual circumstances. Each smallholding should be
visited by a member of the land agents’ team at least once a year,
as well as holding regular tenants’ meetings to which the local
Member should be invited to attend.
26.2 A programme of visits to Tenants is underway and the Land Agents
will ensure that all are visited. To this end, a visit log has been
27.0 Recommendation 26
27.1 If a suitable tenancy becomes available, the request from Norfolk
Smallholders Training Group for “ten acres of land in central
Norfolk for setting up a model smallholding” should be met.
27.2 This will be offered when the opportunity arises.
28.0 Recommendation 27
28.1 The possibility of using part of the Estate to pilot care farming for
particular groups of vulnerable people should be explored.
28.2 The tenancy of Clinks Farm at Haddiscoe has been offered to the East
Anglia Food Link (EAFL) to set up the first care farm with effect from
October 2009. Unfortunately, EAFL has had its budget reduced and
been forced to withdraw. Negotiations continue to find a funding
partner to enable this project to proceed.
28.3 Separate negotiations are underway with West Norfolk MIND to create
a care farm at Hill Farm, Stow, as part of their Community Allotment
programme. Again, finding a suitable funding partner is key to this
project and a couple of options are being explored.
28.4 Contact has also been made with the care farm provider at Sidestrand
Hall (a school for pupils with moderate learning difficulties and
associated behavioural problems run by Norfolk County Council’s
Children’s Services) to discover whether it could provide a similar
operation on 5 acres of a Norfolk County Council farm.
29.0 Recommendation 28
29.1 Allegations of tenants subletting their land should be properly
investigated and appropriate action taken to put a stop to such
29.2 Allegations continue to be investigated as they arise.
30.0 Recommendation 29
30.1 The proposal in the report to Cabinet in October to provide social
housing for older tenants on lifetime tenancies who cannot make
provision for themselves should be acted on as a matter of
30.2 In line with this recommendation, NPS asked Circle Anglia (a local
housing association) for nomination rights on a house at South
Walsham but their application was refused by Broadland District
Council on the grounds that it was not possible under existing rules.
30.3 The problem is real and current and is being investigated, both at local
and national level through ACES to discover whether other Local
Authorities have found a solution.
30.4 In response to the Matthew Taylor Review on Rural Economy and
Affordable Housing, the Government is to set up a Working Group to
look at allowing landowners to have nomination rights when providing
exception sites for affordable housing.
30.5 NRBAS has been made aware that there can be no new entrants to
farming on Norfolk County Council’s Rural Estate unless older tenants
31.0 Recommendation 30
31.1 A separate ‘County Farms Panel’ should be established to take
over the current remit of the Property Advisory Panel with regard
to the Estate. This new Panel should have Executive powers, if
legally possible, and include tenant farmer representatives.
31.2 See Recommendation 24 above.
32.0 Recommendation 31
32.1 The new ‘County Farms Panel’ should be consulted on all matters
concerning the allocation, renewal or termination of tenancies,
disposal of assets or tenant grievances and complaints. It should
also keep under review the management of the contract between
the County Council and its land agents and monitor progress in
implementing the working group’s recommendations. The panel
should report progress and any concerns that may warrant
further scrutiny to the Corporate Affairs Review Panel.
32.2 See Recommendation 24 above.
33.0 Recommendation 32
33.1 There should be a clear procedure, including Member
involvement, for dealing with any grievances or complaints from
33.2 If the complaint was directed against a member of NPS staff, it would
be dealt with in the first instance by the Estates Director, and if he
could not resolve the issue it would be referred to the County Farms
Steering Group for resolution.
34.0 Recommendation 33
34.1 Once the policy for the future of the Estate is agreed, the County
Council should put the management contract out to tender. This
recommendation to be considered by the above-mentioned
Steering Group (recommendation 24) as to the best means by
which the tendering process should proceed.
34.2 NPS is not able to progress this recommendation due to a conflict of
interest. Norfolk County Council will need to establish a client to
manage the process; that is to prepare a specification, and undertake
the procurement. The additional funding required to recruit for this role
has yet to be identified.
35.0 Action Required
35.1 The Cabinet Scrutiny Committee is asked to note the report.
Mike Britch Tel: 01603 706100 firstname.lastname@example.org
Group Managing Director – NPS Property Consultants Ltd
Report of the Cabinet Scrutiny Committee County Farms Policy Scrutiny
Working Group – September 2008
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