News

Family farm reprieved from closure

A family who feared the closure of their farm after a lease on government land expired has been told there is no threat to it.

Richard Bascome Jr and his son, also Richard, were warned in June by the Estates Department that their agreement on seven-acre Westover Farm in Sandys had run out 17 months earlier and were given notice to quit by December.

But Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch, the Minister of Public Works, last night explained that when he was “able to review the facts” and meet the family, he “found that there was no issue so significant to the Cabinet that his tenancy needed to be threatened”.

He said: “Let me repeat what I have stated repeatedly over the past two weeks — the Westover Farm will not be closed down, suspended, or in any way interfered with.

“Mr Bascome Sr has been a welcomed, quality and reliable tenant on government land for decades and both the farm and Mr Bascome are a rightful source of pride for Somerset residents. In fact, Westover Farm’s sausages can be found gracing the menus of authentic restaurants throughout Bermuda that are committed to promoting Bermudian products.”

The Sandys site has been run by the family for more than 50 years and supplies around a quarter of the island’s fresh milk.

The younger Mr Bascome said after the shock news was delivered that the short notice to quit was “ludicrous”.

He also pointed out that eviction meant an uncertain future for about 70 cows, 50 sheep and the farm’s poultry.

But Colonel Burch said yesterday: “This government is determined to support and uplift black, small and medium-sized Bermuda businesses, not shut them down.”

He added: “I am grateful to the civil servants who acted to ensure government assets were protected and I am equally appreciative of the tone and tenor of the Bascomes’s representation of their interests.

“I believe we have achieved a win/win for all parties and look forward to the presence of Westover Farm in the community for many further decades.”

Last month, The Royal Gazette told how the Bascomes said representatives from the government’s estates division called at the Daniel’s Head farm to give them until December 1 to leave, but there had been “no dialogue” since.

After the article was published, Colonel Burch insisted the Government was committed to helping more black businesses get off the ground. He added: “So there is no way we or I would participate in destroying one.”

The family had leased the land since the 1960s but that expired in January 2017.

They contacted Colonel Burch and he agreed to investigate but said: “Before I could do that, however, I received written communication that included their lawyer.

“It indicated that this required me to alert the Government’s lawyer — the Attorney-General.”

The Bermuda Farmers Association added its voice to support the Westover farmers and Stephen Dunkley, the general manager of Dunkley’s Dairy, also watched developments with interest as the closure of Westover would “definitely impact our supply of milk if all of a sudden it disappears”.

On Monday, Colonel Burch met members of the Bascome family and later described the meeting as “cordial, instructive and productive” with an agreement made to discuss the matter further.

Neither Mr Bascome could be reached for comment.