Hickford blames county council's 'incompetent project management' for abandoning Manor Farm

Former deputy county council leader Roger Hickford

Former deputy county council leader Roger Hickford. He said his business plans “suffered severe delays due to inexperience and incompetent project management by those within the county farms team who were engaged with the project”. - Credit: Archant

The former deputy leader of Cambridgeshire County Council has criticised council staff in his first comments since resigning amid controversy over his tenancy of a council-owned farm. 

The former Conservative councillor Roger Hickford has criticised the council’s farm team for what he described as “incompetent project management”. 

He said he was “forced to abandon” his business venture at his tenancy and leave the property “due to a series of broken promises by the council”. 

He said he resigned “because the situation has been made untenable for me to continue”. 

Mr Hickford  stepped down from his role as deputy leader and councillor for Sawston and Shelford on Friday (February 26). 


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It was ahead of a decision to be taken by his former council colleagues over whether to release a report of a two-year investigation into his tenancy and interactions with the council’s county farms team. 

Cambridgeshire County Council declined to comment in response to Mr Hickford’s claims, noting the matter will be discussed at the audit and accounts committee by councillors Friday (March 5). 

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Mr Hickford had been attempting to set up a centre for dog well-being at the property, Manor Farm, in Girton, featuring canine day care, training, hydrotherapy, massage and grooming. 

In a statement provided to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, Mr Hickford said he was “upfront and transparent” about his role as a councillor when applying for the tenancy. 

He said his business plans “suffered severe delays due to inexperience and incompetent project management by those within the county farms team who were engaged with the project” 

And he added: “I have worked very hard at this project for a number of years and have invested both significant amounts of my time and my money in improving the property. 

“I have been forced to abandon the project and leave the property due to a series of broken promises by the council”. 

Addressing his resignation, he said: “I had already decided not to stand for re-election at the May elections because of the way the council had treated me as a farms tenant and a councillor throughout this process. 

“However, I felt I had no other choice but to step down as deputy leader of the council and also resign my position as county councillor with immediate effect because the situation has been made untenable for me to continue. 

“I am very disappointed that my time at the council should end in this way. 

“I have been taking legal advice throughout this process both in relation to the council’s conduct regarding the tenancy and in relation to the audit process, and will continue to do so. 

“I have nothing further to say at this time.” 

Cambridgeshire County Council owns the largest public sector farm estate in the country, and in 2017 it awarded a tenancy for one of its sites, Manor Farm in Girton, to its then deputy leader, Conservative Roger Hickford. 

Mr Hickford’s tenancy and the subsequent two-year investigation – including a police investigation – has been dubbed “farmgate”. 

Cambridgeshire Constabulary ultimately concluded it would take no further action following its investigation. 

But a report produced for the council by an independent auditor has now been completed, and will be considered by the council’s audit committee on March 5. 

Roger Hickford’s statement in full:  

“In 2017, we were awarded the tenancy for Manor Farm to run a commercial enterprise, after an application process during in which a full application and business plan was submitted.  

“I was, at all times upfront and transparent about my role as a county councillor, something which would have been self-evident in any event. 

“Manor Farm consisted of both commercial and residential premises (in which we lived and made our home whilst at the property). 

“The project suffered severe delays due to inexperience and incompetent project management by those within the county farms team who were engaged with the project.  

“This team was a very small team in charge of the county’s greatest financial asset. The county farms estates are worth in excess of £300m. 

“I have worked very hard at this project for a number of years and have invested both significant amounts of my time and my money in improving the property. 

“I have been forced to abandon the project and leave the property due to a series of broken promises by the council. 

“I have, at all times, and when requested to do so, participated in the long-drawn out audit investigation.  

“I have serious concerns about the fairness and transparency of that procedure, which have been raised on numerous occasions.  

“For over two years I have been frustrated by the council’s lack of responses to my questions and concerns, the length to time taken to get to this stage. 


Cllr Roger Hickford, deputy leader of Cambridgeshire County Council, awaiting results of auditor's r

Cllr Roger Hickford, deputy leader of Cambridgeshire County Council, awaiting results of auditor's report into #farmgate, his acquisition of a county farms estate tenancy, Manor Farm, Girton. Picture; TERRY HARRIS/ARCHANT - Credit: Archant

“Last week I found out that the final audit report has been completed and distributed to the audit committee but that any access to it has been denied to me. 

“I had already decided not to stand for re-election at the May elections because of the way the council had treated me as a farms tenant and a councillor throughout this process.  

“However, I felt I had no other choice but to step down as deputy leader of the council and also resign my position as county councillor with immediate effect. 

“The situation has been made untenable for me to continue. I am very disappointed that my time at the council should end in this way. 

Manor Farm

Manor Farm - Credit: Archant

“I have been taking legal advice throughout this process both in relation to the council’s conduct regarding the tenancy and in relation to the audit process, and will continue to do so. 

“I have nothing further to say at this time.” 

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