PRESS: Councillors gagged in battle for county farm

Tony Gosling tony at
Thu May 4 15:02:51 BST 2006

The Land Is Ours
Balham Hill Farm Shop
PRESS RELEASE Chiselborough, Somerset
Thursday 4 May 2006 tel: 01935 881114, 01460 249204


Protesters occupying Balham Hill Farm accused Somerset County Council�s
legal department of gagging Councillors in the run up to today's court
case, in Yeovil County Court, in which the council were given possession of
the squatted farm.

Earlier in the week, protesters trrying to stop the sale of the farm and
farm shop were jubilant when news filtered through that the 87 acre farm,
owned by the County Council, had been withdrawn from the auction, due to be
held on 16 May. The farm is still up for sale, but a new auction date has
yet to be fixed.

On Thursday, protesters shrugged aside the possession order, which requires
them to leave the premises within the next few days . One of them, Mary
Durling (a mother of two who used to sell cordials and herbal products
through the original farm shop) commented: �The possession order is what we
expected. We have never claimed that we wanted to stay on the farm
indefinitely. This has been a friendly protest from local people opposed to
the break up and sale of a publicly owned farm; at some point we need to
get back home and get on with our lives.�

But protesters were angry at the Council�s leaders, who, they claimed, had
sent out a directive ordering county councillors not to engage in dialogue
with the protesters.
Protesters� spokesman Chris Black said: �At first, councillors we spoke to
were happy to talk about the issues, then mysteriously they clammed up.
This was because the Council�s legal department had sent out an e-mail
informing all councillors that they must not talk about the matter because
there was an ongoing legal action. This is a blatantly political directive
to silence debate, dressed up as a legal one.�

Another of the protesters, Simon Fairlie, explained:
� This gagging order is quite unnecessary. Everyone knows that we are
making no claim upon the ownership of the farm, and that our occupation is
symbolic. We moved onto the farm and reopened the shop to create a dialogue
between the County Council and the public about the future of County
Council farms.�

Chris Black added: �From our initial discussions with councillors before
they were gagged, we know that the majority are uneasy with the policy of
selling off County Council farms. The whole business has been an eye-opener
for us about the way the council works. Frankly, it stinks. The executive
board are trying to push
through a policy which doesn�t have support amongst rank and file
councillors, and as soon as there is a public protest they try to stifle
debate by any means they can.�
�Now the court proceedings are over, there is no reason why councillors
cannot talk with us about the future of County Farm Estate. Let�s have a
really good public debate about how this superb publicly-owned resource can
be used in the best way to support farmers, local food production and local

For more information phone Balham Hill Farm, 01935 881975, 07881 636834,
01460 249204
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