A RECOMMENDATION to set up a new committee to advise the Liberal Democrat/Labour cabinet on the county farms estate, has caused unease amongst councillors.
At a meeting of Powys County Council Economy, Residents and Communities (ERC) scrutiny committee councillors received reports from several working groups linked to the committee that look at topics of interest in depth.
One of these is the County Farms working group which is chaired by Plaid Cymru’s Cllr Gary Mitchell.
The report from the working group revealed members want to see the working group disbanded.
They recommended that scrutiny of the council’ “farm and woodland estate” should be done in future by the whole ERC committee.
A second recommendation also suggested that a “County Farms Estate Cabinet Advisory Group” be set up to “explore options” for the future of the farm estate.
The county farms estate has been mired in controversy since September when the cabinet discussed the potential sale of land near Welshpool known as “Gwyn’s Barn” for £5million – behind closed doors.
Calls have been made for an “extraordinary full council meeting” be held to discuss the issue and council leader, Liberal Democrat Cllr James Gibson-Watt has said he would resign if he and his cabinet are found to have acted inappropriately.
Last month the ERC committee called in the cabinet decision for scrutiny – however this probe also took place in secret.
ERC committee vice-chairman Conservative Cllr Karl Lewis said: “I have reservations that working so closely with cabinet would lessen the scrutiny.
“If we’re too close to the masters we will feel that we have to go along with what is suggested.”
Conservative Cllr Adrian Jones said that the working group was doing “a really good job.”
Going back to the Gwyn’s Barn issues, Cllr Jones said: “We did feel uncomfortable about the cause of the recent call in, and that was why we thought it better that scrutiny come back to the main group.”
Cllr Jones said that the group were getting “frustrated” that they were not receiving “all the information” and that the farm sale under the microscope had come “out of the blue.”
ERC committee chairwoman, Liberal Democrat Cllr Angela Davies said: “I think it’s a positive move and it’s great that cabinet is willing to take advice and opinions from councillors.”
Cllr Davies asked whether the proposal should be deferred as Cllr Mitchell was absent and could explain more on the proposals at a future meeting.
Cllr Jones said: “It came from Nigel Brinn he was quite keen to resolve this before he left his post.”
Mr Brinn the council’s former environment and economy director has just left Powys to become chief executive of Forest of Dean district council in England.
Cllr Lewis confirmed this and said: “He wanted to reign it back in and narrow what we’re looking at.”
The committee agreed to defer the matter until the next meeting.