Norfolk County Council’s corporate priorities
The County Farm estate can play an important role in helping to deliver Norfolk County Council’s corporate priorities.
Through providing training and learning opportunities to existing tenants as well as prospective tenants we can broaden the skills base and knowledge of the county’s workforce. In addition, we will seek to engage with education providers and open the estate up as a rural educational resource.
By creating a thriving and progressive County Farm estate which supports individual agricultural businesses, the County Council enables economic growth both directly into the county’s agricultural sector and also indirectly into the numerous related businesses which support the farming industry.
The estate can support improved infrastructure through creating development opportunities for housing and commercial activities. Working with the estate’s tenants and other stakeholders we can protect and enhance the environment around the estate.
Promoting care farming (the therapeutic use of farming practices) across the estate is a significant objective for the Council. Through care farming, the estate can support vulnerable people to live their lives independently and to the fullest extent possible. In addition, opening up parts of the estate for public access and recreation can help local people become more active and provide direct access to Norfolk’s unique countryside. This can help improve both public health and wellbeing.
County Farms management policy
Section 39 of the Agricultural Act 1970 (the Act of Parliament which controls the operation of County Farms estates) states:
"The statutory aim of smallholding authorities is that in performance of their functions they shall, having regard to the general interests of the agriculture and of good estate management, make it their general aim to provide opportunities for persons to be farmers on their own account by letting holdings to persons who satisfy the requirements set down in law."
The County Council has set out its commitment to the County Farm estate by enshrining within the Council’s constitution the retention of the estate and through its management has made it the general aim of the estate to combine these statutory requirements with the Council’s aims, as well as encompassing good estate management principles:
- To provide a ‘gateway’ into agriculture for people to farm on their own account promoting the integration of good environmental and farming practices whilst ensuring a financial return to the County Council
- To judiciously improve it, where appropriate, and support its tenants whilst seeking to grow the operational surplus that it generates to support the other functions of the Council
- To sustain rural communities by supporting the living, working countryside and providing opportunities for greater public access and understanding of agriculture and the countryside
The Council has adopted (October 2017) the following policies and objectives for the management of the estate:
Objective G1: The Business and Property Committee shall be responsible for recommending the over-arching policy for County Farms and for the implementation of policy on each estate as set out in the County Council’s constitution.
Objective G2: The Business and Property Committee will work to:
- Improve and maintain relationships between tenants and the County Council
- Ensure greater transparency in decision making
- Advise the County Council on policy matters
- Approve strategic management plans for each estate
- Advise on acquisitions, disposals and the future investment strategy
Objective S1: The County Council will maintain the size of the estate at 16,000 acres or more. Where land or buildings are declared surplus and subsequently sold, the County Council will reinvest a proportion of the capital receipts as detailed in the Council’s Financial Regulations in order to support the value of the County Farms estate, to improve its infrastructure and to help maximise income return.
Objective S2: The County Farms estate will prioritise its fundamental aim of supporting new entrants to the agricultural industry and the County Council will manage the estate to reflect this policy aim and consider new ways to support new entrants by providing smaller holdings.
Objective S3: The County Council will develop a wide range of farm sizes to encourage a variety of business models and support rural development and economic regeneration. New tenancies should be typically based on a period of 10 years (with breaks for appropriate cases), with preference given to applicants who meet the Council’s tenant selection criteria whilst generating a return to the County Council.
Objective S4: The County Council will encourage commercial farm enterprises, maintain farm rental value and charge market rents on all new tenancies and extensions of existing tenancies.
Objective S5: The County Farms team will develop strategic management plans for each estate to demonstrate what contribution each estate can make to the various policy objectives and enable tenants to plan and invest in their businesses for the future.
Objective F1: Each year the County Farms team will provide an estimate of the net income derived from the County Farms estate to be allocated by the County Council to help support frontline services.
Objective F2: The County Farms team will develop an investment programme to improve the infrastructure, buildings and storage capacity for crops on the County Farms estate.
Objective F3: The County Farms team will identify sites across the County Farms estate for development potential such as for affordable and market housing and for commercial activities.
Objective F4: The County Farms team will develop strategies and processes to minimise rent debt.
Objective EM1: The County Farms team will demonstrate sound estate management practice, having due regard to the interests, aspirations and responsibilities of both the tenants and the County Council.
Objective EM2: The County Council will rigorously enforce the terms of each tenancy agreement to ensure the holding is farmed in a proper tenant-like manner, repair covenants are adhered to and all breaches, including subletting outside the scope of the terms of the tenancy, are minimised.
Objective EM3: The County Council will manage the trees on the estate in the interests of safety and visual amenity.
Environment and community
Objective EC1: Will develop the County Farms estate as an exemplar of innovation, working with Easton and Otley College, the University of East Anglia, Anglia Farmers and others to identify opportunities for partnership working that lead to improvements in training and employment in sustainable farming, providing apprenticeship opportunities, local food production and delivering community benefits.
Objective EC2: Will provide, organise or facilitate mentoring and training for tenants to encourage better business management and diversification.
Objective EC3: Will develop strategies to enable older tenants to retire with dignity and for the County Council to meet its obligations to tenants on retirement tenancies.
Objective EC4: Seek to develop farms to help deliver wider corporate services and objectives, such as, for example, use as an educational resource centre, care farm, or developing links with local schools in conjunction with the appropriate County Council directorates.
Objective EC5: Tenants of intermediate and larger sized holdings will be encouraged to support employment and training opportunities as well as to work with all the County Council’s directorates to maximise healthy living and personal development opportunities.
Objective EC6: Actively encourage tenants to be exemplars of good environmental practice, such as (not a full list):
- Support for the Campaign for the Farmed Environment (CFE)
- Actively maintaining permissive paths and rights of way
- Educating the wider community on modern farming methods