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Agricultural Planning

Ours was not one of those cases that went through in eight weeks. It took until two days before Christmas for our application to be finally refused. Over the previous five months there had been a mass of tooing and froing between our side and theirs. The council had employed “their expert” to assess our business plans. His job appeared to be to discredit our plan and concluded that we did not comply with the F & F test in anyway shape or form. We were all flabbergasted by his stance and assessment. Annex A states that “authorities should take a realistic approach to the level of profitability, taking account of the nature of the enterprise concerned”. To our minds he was clearly not doing this as his assessments were based on figures used for large automated farming concerns where one stockman can look after scores of animals. We were a free range smallholding with no mechanical equipment. These two types of business are poles apart and could not be assessed using the same method we thought. But he would not have it and was determined to agriculture paper stick to his rationale, and we to ours. He also tried to discredit NewLandOwners and Farrlacey Alpacas financial figures. He was not prepared to accept and of NLO’s arguments and had no previous experience or knowledge of any alpacas enterprise. Anyway, after a very frustrating five months we got the refusal we were expecting but immediately set about putting together our appeal. We were all convinced that the council were being totally unreasonable over lots of issues and that we had a good chance at appeal. I mean, they had even said in their refusal notice that nothing much was happening on site and that hardly any livestock could be seen. Hardly surprising as the planning officer had visited in December and half the livestock was in the barn and the rest was probably tucked away in their houses away from the foul weather we had been having. They’ll say anything to try and paint a bad picture. Heaton Planning set the ball rolling following the procedure set down. We ended up attending an Informal hearing which is basically a meeting at the council offices. The inspector chairs the hearing with both sides being able to speak and put their point across. I went with an army. There were two people from Heaton Planning, two from NewLandOwner, two from Farrlacey Alpacas and me. Across the tables were the Planning Officer and his expert and at the head the Planning Inspector. We all had our own part to play, each dealing with a specific area. Without the support of “my team” this would have been very intimidating as though it is called an “Informal Hearing” it followed a certain structure and the inspector was addressed as Sir. In our case, it also took a long time. We started at 10am, broke for lunch at 1pm and didn’t get to the site visit until about 3pm. At times things got very animated as each side tried to get their views across. We then all took the short drive over to the holding for the site visit. The inspector then walks around the whole site and if necessary asks any questions. It is important to have as much going on as possible. Actions speak louder than words and I feel that the inspector could see that all we had said as true, We were keeping hens and selling eggs, breeding pigs and growing vegetables, it was all there for him to see not just something that was written down on a piece of paper, we really were going it. After that it was all over, we just had the agonising wait for the inspector’s decision. To our surprise it took less than a week and we were overjoyed to get a YES. Finally, after nearly two years we had won. Victory is very sweet when you’ve had to work so hard to get it. That wasn’t quite the end of it as we still had to submit the exact “hut” details, grey water system and composting loo details. Our gas appliances needed to be installed by an approved installer and a gas certificate supplied. This all needed to be approved by building control. The approval also came with some conditions. Firstly, an Agricultural Tie, as expected, and a hedge cutting restriction for the road side hedge. The hedge just needs to stay a certain size so it restricts the view of our dwelling from the road. So we got there in the end, but let’s be clear it can be a long, frustrating and costly exercise. You need to be cool headed, resilient and a bit thick skinned but it can be done if you are realistic and determined.

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