Council leader vows to quit if he’s found to have intentionally misled over £5m farm sale plan
Elgan Hearn, local democracy reporter
A council leader has vowed to resign if he is found to have intentionally misled the council in a row over a £5 million farm sale.
Powys County Council leader James Gibson-Watt insisted his cabinet had acted appropriately in the matter.
Last month Nation.Cymru reported that the planned to sell a farm for £5m to one of its major contractors in a secret deal that excluded any other potential buyers from bidding.
The proposed deal was approved in principle at a behind-closed-doors session of Powys County Council’s cabinet on September 19, when councillors considered a report marked “not for publication”.
The report was, however, leaked to Nation.Cymru. It argues against putting the 218-acre property at Leighton near Welshpool out to competitive tender because the £5m bid from the locally based Potter Group is higher than a valuation made by a land agent earlier this year.
The Potter Group, which already owns a neighbouring farm, describes itself as the largest independent waste disposal firm in Wales and has a significant contract with Powys council.
The leaked report stated: “An offer has been received for the purchase of the freehold of the property at the figure of £5m, subject to the existing tenancy agreements. The offer is considered to significantly exceed the market value of the property, which was independently valued by Cooke and Arkwright at £4.13m on April 21 2023.
“The purpose of the offer submitted is to enable the potential purchaser to continue to grow and develop a significant and high value local business, which employs local people and supports other local supply chain businesses.”
Andrew Thomas the tenant of one of the farm known as Gwyn’s barn, said that no discussion has taken place between himself and the council over the potential sale.
In response to this a council spokesman said it would “not typically speak with a tenant prior to a decision being made as these matters are confidential by their very nature”.
At a council meeting Today (5 October) Conservative group leader, Cllr Aled Davies asked an “urgent question” on whether there is more information on the issue and would Cllr Gibson-Watt apologise to those “impacted” by the decision.
Cllr Gibson-Watt said that he wasn’t aware of any further “reliable, relevant or accurate” information on the matter that had become known in recent days.
Cllr Gibson-Watt said: “I’m aware of an awful lot of things flying around social media and local media which I have to say is not accurate.
“I’m confident we had all the information and I’m happy the decision was sound.
“I’m satisfied how cabinet and council officers have dealt with it.
“As far as I’m concerned, we took a sound, balanced and correctly made decision.
“I’m perfectly happy to respect those who disagree with it.”
Cllr Davies was allowed to come back with an extra question.
Cllr Davies said: “Thank you for the reassurance that you are absolutely confident that a sound decision was made.
“Can I also welcome the decision of the ERCG (Economy, Residents and Communities) scrutiny committee to call in that cabinet decision.”
He urged the committee to call witnesses from “inside and outside” the council and that the meeting be held in public “if at all possible”.
Cllr Davies said: “If the committee finds that you have misled the council in any way, will you offer your resignation?”
Cllr Gibson-Watt said: “The report is in my name if it is found to be intentionally inaccurate or acted incorrectly, I will certainly resign.
“We were advised about the manner in which we had to take it, you were present at that meeting and as far as I understood you agreed that the decision had to be taken in camera (private).”
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