Norfolk County Council spends almost £3m to buy 440-acre farm in Marshland St James
- Credit: Archant
Norfolk County Council has spent almost £3m to acquire a 440-acre agricultural property for the County Farms estate – a move which councillors said underlines their commitment to the rural economy.
The authority has bought Bank House Farm in Marshland St James, near King’s Lynn, which includes Grade 2 arable land and 1.28 acres of woodland, and expects it to “provide a strong return on investment”.
Last week, the council announced it would sell off up to 20 sites from its commercial property portfolio to save costs, including a theatre, sailing base and near-vacant office block.
But Keith Kiddie, chairman of Norfolk’s business and property committee, said the council remained committed to “future-proofing” its agricultural estate, which offers tenancy opportunities for farmers looking to start new ventures or expand their business.
“The County Farms estate plays an important role in maintaining rural communities and this acquisition strengthens the estate’s ability to provide employment and generate income for the county,” he said.
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“At a very basic level if you can get a young farmer or an apprentice in, it means they can progress up through larger acreages as they become more experienced. We see this as a way of getting people on at the bottom level so they can move on with their career.”
The acquisition brings the total County Farms estate size to 16,738 acres – well above the council’s constitutional requirement to hold a minimum of 16,000 acres – allowing it the “flexibility to develop or sell off other land within the portfolio if necessary”.
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Mr Kiddie said: “It gives us a bit of headroom – if we sell on some of the County Farms land, which we have got to be prepared to do as we rationalise the estate, a percentage of that has to be ploughed back in. This is not an asset-stripping exercise. It is an asset-building exercise.
“We paid just under £3m for Bank House Farm and I think it was a good price. Norfolk is still a highly agricultural region and farming is a hugely important industry.”
ABOUT THE COUNTY FARMS ESTATE
Norfolk’s County Farms estate is currently the third largest in the UK, behind Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire.
The 16,738 acres of land is split into 70 smaller estates ranging in size from seven acres to 3,094 acres, and provides farming opportunities for more than 145 tenants, with an average farm size of 120 acres.
Some County Farms grow traditional arable crops, while others have more unusual uses, including the production of essential oils, two care farms, pheasant rearing businesses, selling of rare breed meat, a plant nursery, and several horse liveries.
Farmers hoping to take on a tenancy will need to produce a sound business plan, with shortlisted applicants interviewed by a panel of council officers, committee members and external advisers from the agricultural community.
“It is a rigorous process, because farming is a business and it needs to make a profit,” said Mr Kiddie. “It has got to wash its face.”
The farm will be let from October 2018, along with other farms within the Norfolk County Farms estate. Potential tenants can discuss opportunities by contacting 01603 638400 or firstname.lastname@example.org