Derbyshire planning chief apologises for blunder which cost authority £7,500

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A Derbyshire council planning chief has formally apologised for the authority losing an appeal over a farm house – costing it £7,500.

In a largely unprecedented move, Steve Birkinshaw, Erewash Borough Council’s head of planning and regeneration, publicly apologised to councillors.

The appeal loss had related to plans to build a permanent agricultural worker’s house on a farm in Ockbrook.

The applicant, Harry Fitzhugh, already has a temporary mobile home on the site – which is in protected green belt and – in Home Farm Close, which he requires during the calving season so as to provide regular support to newborns.

However, the rest of the cattle herd is kept on a separate parcel of land near Borrowash, pregnant cows are moved to the Ockbrook site purely to calve.

Council officers refused the application in 2017 feeling that this was not a good enough reason to justify a permanent house being built in the green belt.

Mr Fitzhugh appealed against this decision, which had not involved elected members, and won, in a decision signed off by David Cross, a government planning inspector.

In a meeting of the authority’s planning committee last night (Wednesday, March 20) Mr Birkinshaw said: “It is not often that I have to come before this committee to issue an apology, but today is one of those days.

“The application related to changing temporary agricultural accommodation to permanent  agricultural accommodation.

“The applicant keeps his livestock several miles away and stays at the house during calving season to oversee the animals.

“We saw this as a conflated reason – however, the inspector dismissed this and felt that this was an adequate reason, making our reason to refuse the application invalid.

“Our view is that temporary agricultural buildings are never going to be temporary.

“I apologise for letting you down on this one, but we thought  it was the right thing to do to test this decision.”

Cllr Paul Shelton said: “It is pretty clear that this is the thin end of the wedge – to be given temporary permission to get development rights.

“It is a shame you can’t stop these dwellings from being used for longer than a certain period – such as just for calving.

“It is a bogus reason for getting building approved in the green belt.”

Mr Birkinshaw confirmed that the appeal loss has cost the council £7,500, which would come out of the existing planning services budget.

He joked: “I hope nobody wants anything printed any time soon – we are down to our last roll of paper.”

Committee chairman, Cllr Robert Parkinson, said: “It is hard to see how a dwelling is only going to be used on a temporary basis. Frequently people are choosing to make these homes permanent and it is found to be acceptable.”

Mr Birkinshaw said: “If in 10 or 15 years anyone with these temporary houses choose to retire from farming our experience is that the planning inspector looks favourably on their site – on land that is occupied for farming.”

Cllr John Frudd said: “We are damned if we do and damned if we don’t on this one.”

Meanwhile, Cllr Howard Griffiths said: “More and more the owners of these farms are living in the urban core miles away because they can’t afford to live out there.”

A council report on the appeal loss says: “The application was refused planning permission under delegated powers on the grounds that it had not been demonstrated that there was an essential agricultural need for a dwelling on this site and that alternative options were available to meet the applicant’s needs.

“The inspector stated that the refusal of planning permission was unsupported by an objective analysis of the evidence on agricultural need and viability and concluded that the refusal of planning permission amounted to unreasonable behaviour.

“The inspector concluded that a full award of costs was therefore justified.”

A statement from the applicant included in the appeal, filed by Neil J Bland Ltd – a rural practice chartered surveyor and agricultural valuer – says: “Whilst there may be affordable properties in Borrowash it comprises an intensively built-up area which is neither in sight nor sound of the appellant’s buildings at Borrowash or Ockbrook.

“Therefore checking livestock during the night will be both inefficient and unsustainable.

“There is no effective substitute to living on the site where the livestock in need of essential short notice care and attention are also located.”