Markhams Farm and Manor Farm

Over 1500 people have now signed the petition calling on Devon County Council to withdraw the Grade 1 agricultural farmland at Markhams Farm, and at Manor Farm, as sites for housing development.

Since our last correspondence I have received a reply from Dan Meek, the director at NPS (SW) Ltd in response to my questions to Devon County Council, which were:

I asked these questions of Devon County Council recently:

  • How can Devon County Council justify throwing away the equivalent acreage of farmland to that which it purchased in 2009 in order to make Markhams Farm more viable?
  • Arable and agricultural quality land should not ‘be disposed of’ in a piecemeal fashion, in order to “generate capital receipts” for investment by the Council in the capital programme, and “enable land to be replenished”.
  • Farms cannot be established like jigsaw pieces – removing 80 acres of land from Markhams Farm to generate income to buy more land elsewhere, will remove the viability from Markhams Farm, which you sought to benefit in 2009 when you purchased an additional 85 acres of land there.
  • How can Devon County Council declare a climate and ecological emergency, and yet pay no regard farming sustainability, nor care for the current and next generations of farmers in our Devon, by selling off County Farm land here and there?
  • A farm takes time to create, months to nurture, and years to farm successfully and sustainably, and yet you propose to sell land off, in order to buy other land elsewhere.
  • I am troubled that you state that selling off land which is currently farmed “aligns with the recommendations made by Sir Donald Curry CBE FRAgS, in his capacity as Chair of the Sustainable Farming and Food Delivery Group, in his paper on ‘The Importance of the County Farms Service to the Rural Economy’ (November 2008)”. 

    In the Farms Estate Committee meeting held on 5 February 2009, at which the above paper by Sir Donald Curry was presented, the key points were also noted: 
    “Farms owned and managed by Local Authorities are an important, strategic, national asset that should be retained. These farms assist Local Authorities in meeting wider economic, countryside and environmental objectives and provide an essential route into farming for new entrants.”
  • Why is Devon County Council planning and working to sell off County Farm-land in order to generate capital receipts, when that County Farm land can generate capital receipts for the Council?  Has Devon County Council not considered the effects that the selling off parcels of County Farm-land must have on the mental health and wellbeing of the County Farm tenants, and the effects that the threatened sale of County Farm-land must have on tenant farmers, their feelings for the farm security, and their farm work-plans for the future ?

The reply that I received last week from Dan Meek, the senior land agent last week was unsatisfactory and did not answer any of my questions (listed above). 

“The County Council would be unable to invest in it Farms Estate if it had not generated (and continued to generate) funding through the sale of land, nor would it have had money to ensure the Council discharges it’s statutory responsibilities in relation to the farms estate which would no doubt lead to a position where it would not be financially or legally  sustainable for DCC to retain farm holdings (and you will no doubt be aware that many Council’s across the country have disposed of their entire interest in a farms estate).

DCC have balanced the identification of development opportunities, the acquisition of land and the retention of a viable Farms estate which the Curry report sets out.”

This reply from Mr Meek quotes just a small section of the Curry report, which also states (as given in my question to Mr Meek and Cllr John Hart, “Farms owned and managed by Local Authorities are an important, strategic, national asset that should be retained. These farms assist Local Authorities in meeting wider economic, countryside and environmental objectives and provide an essential route into farming for new entrants.”  “

The farms estate gave a surplus of £464,000 in 2020/2021 (point 4).

My concerns are:

I am troubled that Devon’s tax-payers funds are being used to buy and sell Grade 1 agricultural land with an aim of selling it on for property development.

Where is the transparency for the Devon tax-payers, including the tenant farmers, regarding the farms estate being managed by a company controlled and owned by Norfolk County Council?

Is it in the interests of the tenant farmers and Devon County Council’s tax-payers that Norse Group Ltd (the company of which NPS (SW) Ltd is a part) made over £2 million profit for Norfolk County Council in the year 2020/2021?  (Norfolk County Council statement of accounts, page 105)
(NPS (SW) Ltd was dissolved as a company on 31 March 2021, taken over by Norse Consulting Group Ltd, part of Norse Group Ltd, controlled and owned by Norfolk County Council)

(reference: Companies House documents: and )

It is worrying that both sites at Markham Farm and at Manor Farm are proposed for house-building, at a time when the need for sustainable farming and encouragement for local farming is crucial at this time of climate and biodiversity emergency.

In the report published this week by the Royal Town Planning Institute, it warned that developers were failing to build homes near public amenities and public transport: “There are, however, still many areas across England where development is occurring in relatively inaccessible locations. In these areas, owning a car increasingly becomes a necessity as travel times by other modes cannot compete. While the proportion of development with more than an hour travel by public transport or walking to a town centre of major employment centre is low, the impact of these developments and their potential carbon footprint have long-term consequences.”

Further, grade 1 agricultural farm-land owned by public authorities should be protected, rather than bought and sold for the interests and profits of property developers. 

I totally agree that the provision of affordable housing for local people is essential, and I urge Devon County Council and local authority property agents and planners to look for ‘brownfield’ land sites first, on well-served public transport routes, to ensure sustainable living, and sites that don’t require the use of a car to access them.


Cllr Alison Foden