Ross Clark Ross Clark

Country slickers

Ross Clark on how the new CAP rules make it profitable for city folk to buy farms and use them as homes – with big gardens

Ross Clark on how the new CAP rules make it profitable for city folk to buy farms and use them as homes – with big gardens

If the words ‘Get orff my land’ are delivered in future less in yokel tones than in the mid-Atlantic accent of the trading floor, don’t be surprised. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors reveals that two thirds of all farms sold between April and June this year were bought by non-farmers, many of them by City bankers who like the idea of living in a country house surrounded by 300 acres of their own land. The land agents Strutt & Parker confirm that wealthy buyers are seeking to buy farms rather than landless houses in order that they might ‘control the living space and environment around them’. These bankers-turned-farmers want to be able to plant a belt of trees here, put a flock of sheep out to graze there, and generally create their own little playgrounds far removed from the stresses of metropolitan life.

That is very nice for them, but is there any reason why the rest of us should have to pay for their place in the country? To anyone who has been following the reforms to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the sudden attraction of country life to the nation’s bankers and businessmen should come as no surprise. Of all the daft schemes dreamed up by Brussels over the years, the plan to subsidise the creation of gentlemen’s estates must rank as one of the most absurd.

The original CAP, introduced in 1962, was foolish enough. It encouraged farmers to produce mountains of unwanted food, punished the consumer through artificially high prices and gave rise to bizarre and often, no doubt, apocryphal tales of corruption.

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