Advisory group to be set up to help Powys Cabinet on county farms

THE Powys County Farms working group of councillors that looked at the council’s farm and woodland estate, will be scrapped.

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At a meeting of the council’s Economy, Residents and Communities (ERC) scrutiny committee on Monday, December 11, the proposal to scrap the group returned to the table.

The item had been deferred from the committee’s last meeting on October 30 due to members of the committee having concerns about the proposal.

This was in light of the controversial decision by the Cabinet in confidential session back in September to sell 218 acres of the council’s farm estate in the village of Leighton near Welshpool.

The changes also follow a decision at the council meeting last Thursday December 7, to push ahead with a review the policy around county farm sales.

Working group chairman, Plaid Cymru’s Cllr Gary Mitchell said that group had been thinking about “the next steps.”

Cllr Mitchell said: “What more could we do with the farm estate?

“Is it delivering for all of the council’s needs in terms of finance, nature recovery, food production, homes, retirement plans, all of those things.

“We’ve had a clear indication that we’re stepping outside of scrutiny and moving into the realm of developing ideas and helping shape future farms policy for the authority.

“Because of that we can’t be seen to be marking our own homework within the ERC scrutiny committee.”

He said that the report advised disbanding the group, that a Cabinet Advisory Group (CAG) for the county farms is set up in its place and that decisions on the farm and woodland estate are scrutinised by the full ERC committee.

Cllr Mitchell explained that any overlap between the new advisory group and ERC would see those councillors declare an interest and not vote on the matter.

Committee chairwoman Liberal Democrat, Cllr Angela Davies said: “For me it sounds like a really exciting opportunity for members of the group to drive policy and be there at the inception of ideas.

“The fact that and proposals will come back to ERC is not an issue, this group is very capable of scrutinising the work as we do many projects across the council.”

Council leader, Liberal Democrat Cllr James Gibson-Watt said that the new advisory group would lead the county farms estate review and needs to be formulated carefully for: “political and geographical balance.”

Cllr Gibson-Watt said:”We have to get this right first time as we don’t want to get into arguments over who is in the group and who isn’t.”

The committee unanimously backed the three recommendations.

The terms and reference and political balance of the committee will be finalised before the final report and decision to ratify the changes are brought before the Cabinet.

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