Thursday, 7 October 2010

Protecting Anglesey's 'Môn Mam Cymru' status

© Sir Kyffin Williams, R.A. (1918-2006)
Tucked away in the 'Farm & Country' section of today's Daily Post is a very significant report about a plan to renovate Anglesey Country Council's tenant farms. It is a little known fact that Anglesey Council owns the second largest smallholdings estate in Wales, however the sad fact is that many of these farms have over time become considerably dilapidated. With little or no money set aside to repair them, rents well below the market average, and an attitude that they are sacrosanct and should not be sold, these smallholdings have over time crumbled into even worse states of disrepair -- in fact, according to the Daily Post, only a very small portion even have central heating.

It is refreshing therefore to discover that at a meeting of the Executive this week, the decision was finally made to take action and sell a small portion of these smallholdings, and parcels of bare land, in order to fund much needed estate management, such as repairs and modernisation for the remaining smallholdings over the next five years. Furthermore, going beyond just improving the quality of the estate, plans have also been put in place to create a clear succession framework to ensure that the modernised smallholdings are then available to help young farmers (with Agricultural College backgrounds) get a 'step-up' into the farming business.

This decision by the Council is entirely to be welcomed -- and in fact exactly such a policy was advocated in the People's Manifesto for Ynys Môn:

- Anglesey County Council’s tenant farms are a valuable public asset and provide an opportunity for much needed younger farmers to learn the ropes and become independent with minimal capital outlay. However, many of the council's tenant farms are currently in poor states of disrepair. Resources allowing, the council should endeavour to renovate them so that they will continue to serve the island.
- In order to generate money to renovate the majority of the council’s tenant farms, it may be necessary to value and sell off a small proportion of such to tenant farmers, or even offer part ownerships of smallholdings.

Therefore all credit to the new portfolio holder for Property, Smallholdings and Asset Management, Cllr H. Eifion Jones, for having the foresight to grasp this particular nettle and also for managing to build cross-party support within the council for this intervention. Some other councils with similarly large numbers of smallholdings, such as Somerset, have decided to sell their entire estates -- however, considering agriculture is so important to both Anglesey's past ("Môn Mam Cymru") and it's future, the Druid completely supports the plans to create, in Cllr Eifion Jones's words, "a vibrant smallholdings estate which will help young farmers enter the agricultural industry".

Readers might also be interested to learn that Prof. Elan Closs Stephens, chair of the Recovery Board, has taken to strolling through the council building and sitting in on various meetings. This week she decided to attend the above meeting and declared herself delighted with both the proactive policy itself and the constructive nature of the meeting.

Could this be a sign that the Council is beginning to consider the challenges it faces in a mature manner and is trying to turn itself around?


Anonymous said...

There's a pretty pointless bridge in Holyhead that could be sold off for the scrap metal along with a pretty pointless empty office block next to it.

That should help renovate a few of these smallholdings.

The Great Councillini said...

"it may be necessary to value and sell off a small proportion of such to tenant farmers, or even offer part ownerships of smallholdings."

I have very mixed feelings about all this. Firstly, as a later, tongue-in-cheek post implies, there are other ways to raise cash for bringing smallholdings up to perceived modern standards of living.

Indeed, looking through the accounts of the Council, there seem to be relatively healthy reserves in many departments. Then we have the IoA Charitable Trust (the 'Shell' fund). That could easily provide enough money to do the jobs needed, especially as providing affordable farms locally is very much in the interests of Anglesey and its people (the wording of the fund). I'd argue the Shell fund would be better to support this than give 70% of its annual donations to Oriel Ynys Mon, which more properly ought to be run along business lines.

So, I see less a need to sell and start edging towards privatisation, a bit like that of council houses, of tenant farms, and more of a need to robustly stand behind them as an increasingly-important means of getting youngsters into farming without taking-on crippling debt that they may anyway never be able to get from the banks.

On a last note, I wonder how many tenant farmers and members of the public in general were consulted on this matter?

Avatar said...

In addition to agreeing with what you say, Druid, I will make a suggestion.

Those with Council tenant farms should in conjunction with the Council, Young Farmers Association, Farmers Unions and an agricultural college set up an overseeing management board. Things like a central pool of expensive equipment could be established (held for training at the College) and lent out to the small holdings as and when required.

All those in tenant farms should be given be expected to produce business plans as to how they will develop their business. I see the future in niche markets foods, which this islands needs to develop. A central processing unit should be established, where the skills and knowledge of food production could be learnt. Goat cheese in example is an excellent small holding business.

The key is partnership, and tenant farmers would need to demonstrate that they are fully contributing to the partnership to remain, or otherwise they may need to be told farming is not after all the right profession for them.

Anonymous said...

Not sure the Council deserve a pat on the back for fulfilling their legal obligation to bring their houses up to the minimum standard of living. Haven't they just been forced into this to comply with Decent Homes Standard?

Anonymous said...

This is certainly a long-delayed (by the previous regime) but now welcomed proactive policy which must be right.
But the Council has substantial other land holdings many of which are redundant...ask to be shown their land-holdings plan which is a public document available on screen in the property Section in Llangefni.
There should be a review of all redundant lands and a strategic disposal ?
We hear that the infamous Graigwen at Amlwch has, or is close to receiving, planning permission for 48 houses...congratulations to those involved, a good deal indeed ?

Anonymous said...

Graigwen was purchased to gain access to the land behind, belonging to the Council.History tells us that although planning permission has been granted for several developments since the 1940's, even a new School, the land was found not fit to built on. Nothing has changed.

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:44

Anonymous said...

12.44 and 15.29
Gentlemen, sorry, how wrong you are..the DHS do not cover agricultural dwellings...check this out !

The Druid of Anglesey said...

Avatar - some excellent suggestion. I wholeheartedly agree.

The Red Flag said...

Avatar, I beleive that's known as a Co-Op.

Anonymous said...

I think the general point behind the detail is this: given that Local Authorities always end-up making the wrong decisions under pressure sooner or later, wouldn't it be better for a co-op or other similar set-up to protect these farms?

Anonymous said...

David Bowles to small holding tenants.
Don't make trouble or I'll sell the lot off.