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Farm strategy plans put on hold

PUBLISHED: 11:49 13 October 2009 | UPDATED: 15:18 03 July 2010

Council leaders yesterday bowed to pressure and put on hold plans for a rewrite of Norfolk's county farms strategy amid rumours of a rift within the ruling Tory group.

Council leaders yesterday bowed to pressure and put on hold plans for a rewrite of Norfolk's county farms strategy amid rumours of a rift within the ruling Tory group.

The county council cabinet was poised to approve a relaxation of the new policy - only agreed this year - to allow some sell-offs of the 16,000-acre estate to continue and to avoid putting out to tender the contract to run the farms.

The farms are managed by Norfolk Property Services, a commercial offshoot of the council, and the cabi-net was concerned about the six-figure cost of the tendering process at the time when it was seeking potential cuts.

During the session, the meeting was told that about 9pc, or 1,625 acres, of the estate had been sold previously, netting £16m to plough back into projects and services.

Council leader Daniel Cox said he wanted more time to consider the public response after being inun-dated with concerns from tenant farmers and interest groups such as the National Farmers' Union.

“The points raised by the public over this policy mean that I have chosen to defer any decision on county farms,” he said. “We are a listening council and could not ignore these issues. I would like to personally thank members of the public, from the farming community and elsewhere, for raising these points with the cabinet. I can assure all those who contacted us that we will thoroughly investigate any points they have raised.” Mr Cox would not be drawn on whether his group was at odds over the issue.

Last month, the Conservatives agreed by one vote - 18 to 17 - to relax the rules at a group meeting, but details leaked out and the shift caused a rumpus among backben-chers as a large chunk of the 50-strong group missed the meeting.

Bev Spratt, who chaired a scrutiny working group looking at the changes, cautioned his party against selling off the family silver.

The EDP understands a group meeting on Friday failed to break the deadlock, forcing Mr Cox to play for time. However, he insisted: “It's not a

U-turn at all. The group is fully supportive of the county farms policy that cabinet introduced earlier this year. There have been a lot of scare stories around that the county council is proposing to sell-off all the county farms, which is completely untrue.”

Labour's George Nobbs, who was a member of the original working group, said the deferral was a farce as the Tories had already changed the policy in secret.

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