COUNTY leader Jonathan Lester has rejected claims the selloff of Herefordshire Council’s smallholdings will leave the authority without a safety net to rely on during difficult financial times.

The council announced a projected total income of £46m from the sales of the publicly-owned farms so far at a cabinet meeting on May 10.

A total of 59 individual lots were marketed with a total guide price of £37m and the council says they were offered to the open market to achieve best value for money and generate other funding for the services it must provide.

But Independent councillor Bob Matthews quizzed councillor Lester over the controversial sales.

He said: “Do you agree that this administration has sold off almost all of the county’s most valuable and highly valued assets during the last few years, and that by the time you leave office in the 12 months’ time there will be very little left to dispose of to support future administrations during difficult financial times?”

Conservative councillor Lester replied: “If you are referring to assets that generate a capital receipts you would only say that would be the wrong thing to do if you gave them away for free. We did not. We sold them.

“The guide price for those smallholdings were 37m but we are announcing today the sales will net the council £46m which will be reinvested in this council and county so that we will be getting a greater return for those assets.”

Coun Lester also revealed that almost 100 land or property assets were disposed of in the two years leading up to 2018 generating more than £48m for the council.

He explained that some of these assets were transferred to communities for a nominal fee which would benefit the local residents.

Out of the 40 tenants originally affected by the sale, 25 tenants have purchased all or part of their farm, mutually agreed retirement or continued their tenancies under a new landlord.

The remaining 15 tenants have found other opportunities through new tenancies, ownership of alternative land and employment in the rural business and agricultural sectors.

The council has retained six smallholdings from its estate which have the potential for future housing and infrastructure development opportunities, and those tenants remain on their existing terms.

The total sale costs which includes agent fees, legal fees and tenants’ statutory payments are £2,346,000.

The council paid out £1.8m in tenants’ compensation, £388,000 in agent fees, £150,000 in legal fees and £8,000 in tenants’ support grant.

Three of the farm sales are yet to be completed and the total gross capital receipt so far is £43,787,771.