Agenda item

DM/20/00826/FPA - Lartington Lane, Lartington, Barnard Castle

Erection of timber cabin to host pony training events and to provide holiday accommodation and erection of a timber field shelter


The Committee considered a report of the Planning Officer regarding an application for the erection of a timber cabin to host pony training events and to provide holiday accommodation and erection of a timber field shelter at Lartington Lane, Lartington, Barnard Castle (for copy see file of minutes).


The Principal Planning Officer gave a detailed presentation which included a site location plan, aerial photographs and photographs of the site.


The Chair noted that the application intruded onto an area of high landscape value with the proposed chalet only 5m from ancient woodland and he asked if any discussion had taken place on how to mitigate the impacts.  The Principal Planning Officer confirmed that the site was within an area of high landscape value with ancient woodland to south of the site.  According to planning guidance, buildings should be 15m away or have an adequate assessment.  Throughout the application process, the planning authority had looked at reducing the landscape impact and taking the chalet out of the buffer area, however the Landscape Officer was not satisfied that this would remove the landscape harm and therefore discussions had not progressed.


Councillor Henderson, Local Member, had visited the site and spoken to the applicants, who were prepared to drop the height of the building by two feet to lessen the impact on the view.  He confirmed that the Applicants farmed in the upper dales and were trying to diversify and use their land to create a tourist attraction, which would be of benefit to Teesdale and assist them to continue to farm.  The proposal would be a great advantage.  The chalet would be wood clad and fit well into the surroundings and if the application was refused it would be a great loss for the area.


Councillor R Bell, Local Member, thanked the Committee for the opportunity to speak and suggested that a site visit would have been beneficial.  He had submitted a presentation of photographs for the benefit of the Committee. 


Councillor Bell confirmed that he had visited the site twice and given that the only substantive objection was on landscape grounds, the backstory was an important consideration.  He referred to a photograph of the fomer dutch barn which had been storm damaged and subsequently removed by the applicants.  Had it been left, they could have put up an equally ugly building with permitted development rights but they thought he would be able to agree to replace it with a building placed in a less obtrusive area and built with better materials but it was now being treated as if it was a virgin site.  It was important to recognise that the Applicants had been honest throughout and put a lot of work in.


Councillor Bell referred to the description of the location as within parkland at Lartington Hall Park and suggested that even if hedges were removed, the site would not be visible from the hall park nor the hall park visible from the site.  There was no visual link between the two sites and therefore to link them on the basis of drones and maps without considering what you could see on the ground, set a dangerous president.


The second substantive issue was with regards to the degree of hedge screening and the second photograph showed the summer hedge, the scale of which was visualised at around 6 feet in height.  Councillor Bell accepted it would be less of a disguise in winter however the applicant had offered to do under-planting and at eye level from a car or a 4x4, it could not be seen through.  The only way to see it was by parking in the gateway or parting the hedge on foot.  Had a site visit been undertaken, Members would have been able to see for themselves.


With regards to the height of the building, Councillor Bell produced a photograph of a tractor loader which had been parked in the proposed location of the chalet, with the height of loader at the height of the eaves.  Neither the tractor or its forks could be seen from the gate or the road, it had only become visible on entering the field.  Councillor Bell was confident that the structure would not be visible from the road.


The applicant disputed amount of hedge to be removed.  The report stated 60 metres, however during the presentation it was stated at 20 metres, therefore an error had been made.  Either way, Councillor Bell suggested that it was not a significant amount and reiterated the Applicants’ offer to replant.


Councillor Bell alluded to a number of spurious road safety objections, but in response to one that cited concerns for road safety, he noted that the Applicant had confirmed there would be no more than ten vehicles at one time, which was not a significant volume of traffic.


Councillor Bell confirmed that if some of the replacement barn was visible from the road, it would be much less than the previous structure and with much more superior materials.  With regards to issue of screening, he referred to the caravan site down road, which was in a similar location and screened by a hedge.  It had a substantial service block, all of which had been approved, which on appeal he felt would appear inconsistent in the planning authority’s approach.


Councillor Bell suggested that the area described as ancient woodland was not and confirmed that the trees were actually self-seeded birch from trees that had been previously felled, estimated at around 20-30 years old.  He would have liked to see evidence of potential damage from the foundations of chalet but again referred to the static caravan site which had pitches far closer to the woodland.  He presumed that they were allowed due to the required foundations not being particularly deep, similar to what would be required for a wooden chalet.  From experience the foundations for this type of structure would be typically 12 inches deep and would have no effect on the trees whatsoever.  This could be regulated by a condition and should not be a reason to reject the application.


Given the only serious objection was from the landscape department, Councillor Bell hoped that he had shown that from ground level view, there was no significant landscape impact.  He suggested that it could be argued that any development, anywhere, had an adverse landscape impact and the question left, was whether the impact was significant. 


On summing up, Councillor Bell suggested that if the proposal was compared to the dutch barn, it would be an improvement, and if the Committee ruled that the barn could not be considered due to it having been unwisely demolished, it still begged the question of whether the landscape impact was significant.  If it couldn’t be seen from ground level, how could it be significant?  To summarise, the screening was adequate, the applicant had offered to underplant the hedges, the ancient woodland was not ancient, and the foundations for the timber lodge would not have an impact.  Councillor Bell considered that there was no valid planning reason to reject the application.


Councillor Jewell confirmed that the report referred to insufficient information having been submitted and asked for clarification on whether the applicant had been asked to submit further information.  The Principal Planning Officer confirmed that there was a grant pending on the application and therefore limited time to query some elements of the scheme and for the matters to be addressed.  As the site of the structure was within the 15m buffer, there should have been an assessment on the impact on the ancient woodland.  He appreciated that there were trees that looked less mature but due process should have been followed.  Alternative positions had been considered, but the landscape harm could not be mitigated and therefore this was not progressed.


The Chair confirmed that ancient woodland was not defined by the age of the trees, but the location.


Ms A Eccles, the Applicant, addressed the Committee and confirmed that the measurements had been incorrectly reported and the building had been referenced as 50 metres when it was actually 50 feet and the gateway had been reported as 20 metres, but was actually 20 feet.  Also the report stated that the existing field shelter would remain, but they had offered to demolish it.


Ms Eccles explained that she and her husband David were tenant farmers in upper Teesdale and he had been breeding dales ponies since the age of 14.  He had dedicated his life to breeding ponies, which were a native breed and had acquired great knowledge over the years which he wished to pass on to future generations.  Due to Brexit and future of farming, they were looking for another income stream to diversify.  They were disappointed with the recommendation to refuse as they had made effort to arrive at satisfactory scheme to satisfy officers.  Mrs Eccles confirmed that they were in the process of applying for a rural grant from the Rural Development Agency.


With regards to the two reasons for refusal, the landscape impact and impact on the trees.  Mrs Eccles confirmed that they would have liked the opportunity to assess the impact however she noted the permitted caravan site and amenity building at the adjacent site, which was in close proximity to the same ancient woodland.  She continued that it would have been evident if Members had visited the site, that the beech trees had been removed 25 years ago and this was now an area of self-seeded scrubland with relatively new trees.


Mrs Eccles referred to the findings in the report, that the development would have a significant adverse impact on the landscape, based on the advice from the Landscape Officer.  The report acknowledged that the lodge would be largely hidden by landfall and the surrounding landscape and hedge would entirely screen it from view.  Any domestic paraphernalia would not be seen and with regards to hardstanding and parked cars, they were closer to ground and any demonstrations carried out would be limited to ten people per session, with 2-3 vehicles on site at any given time. 


Mrs Eccles confirmed that the building was an essential part of the business.  It was an improvement on the tin shelter which had been regretfully demolished – which she added, had only made the landscape look better and more difficult to gain planning permission.  They felt that they were being penalised for trying to do the right thing.


She continued that any external storage and clutter referred to was unnecessary and if needed could be controlled by a condition.  The landscape impact was mainly the visibility of the proposed shed from Lartington Lane and this area was a 60mph road with no footpaths and dense hedgerows around most of its boundary. If anything, only limited views of the proposed building would exist and Mrs Eccles stated that there were far more prominent approved farm buildings along the A66 with no screening or visual mitigation whatsoever.


Mrs Eccles disputed the extent of the hedgerow to be removed to obtain visibility due to the depth of the highway verge, but in any extent it could only be reduced by 1m and not removed entirely and this could be conditioned for replanting behind the visibility splay.  New hedgerows had been proposed to the west which would render the building almost invisible and improve the existing hedgerow, compensating any loss, including wildlife.


Mrs Eccles hoped that it would be acknowledged that despite traffic objections the highways impact was acceptable and so was the ecological impact.  The proposal was beneficial to the County and Teesdale and the limited impacts could be mitigated by planning conditions.


Mrs Eccles thanked Members for the opportunity to speak and hoped that the application be approved.


The Principal Planning Officer responded that the dimensions had been rounded up slightly for the presentation, but paragraph 5 and 6 in the report were accurate.  With regards to the barn which already had an established impact on the landscape, the proposal was significantly different.  The old structure was open with views attainable.  The advice of the landscape officer had been taken on board and he concluded that the benefits of the development would not outweigh the landscape impact.


The Chair reminded the Committee that although they had heard references to alternative sites, they were not relevant when assessing the application.


Councillor Atkinson suggested that he found himself in favour of the Applicant.  Having sat on other Committees scrutinising the economy, there was no doubt that this business would improve it.  A lot of money was being invested into the development and infrastructure, which would increase tourism in the area.  The main objection was the adverse effects on the landscape which could not be proven to demonstrably effect the landscape.   He did not feel that they could properly assess the visible impact and there was not a great deal of objections.  The Applicants had the most to lose and he found it difficult to accept the refusal and was inclined to go against the recommendation.


Councillor Tinsley had sympathy with the position of the Applicants as he understood the background farming issues, however all material planning issues had to be considered.  Land was designated for a reason and this was an area of high landscape value with an area of ancient woodland.  The development had an access which was materially different from how it was now and the removal of 20 metres of hedge which would change the character of the road. 


Councillor Tinsley continued that a shed of 6.1m in height was significant and would remain significant even if it was reduced by 60cm, as offered by the applicant.  It would have an impact upon the landscape and despite Councillor Bell having identified the former dutch barn which had been demolished, it was a significantly smaller structure than the one proposed. 


Councillor Tinsley confirmed that there would be a significant impact on the landscape, in an area of high landscape value.  Having listened to the views of Councillor Atkinson, he agreed that the proposal would bring a lot of benefits to the area, but this was not the right area.  Councillor Tinsley agreed with the concerns of the Parish Council, the advice of the Landscape Officer and the Planning Officers recommendation and moved refusal of the application.


Councillor Zair agreed with the comments from Councillor Atkinson with regards to tourism and referred to Visit County Durham and the income from rural tourism.  It was vastly important to get back on track following the Covid 19 pandemic and applauded the Eccles’ for trying to do so.  This was a step forward in a rural area and he would be voting against the recommendation.


Councillor Shuttleworth confirmed that Members should take note of Local Members as they had the background knowledge of the area.  Anything that was going to bring jobs and tourism into the area and boost the economy was a benefit to the area.


Councillor Atkinson proposed a motion to approve the application, seconded by Councillor Shuttleworth.


Councillor Jewell confirmed that this was a very sensitive issue however he was concerned that the Committee were veering off from planning legislation when talking about generating business and boosting the economy.  He acknowledged that this was a consideration, but he was struggling to see a valid planning reason to oppose the recommendation.


The Planning and Development Solicitor confirmed that the benefit to the local economy could be weighed against the disadvantages and economic impacts and therefore could be considered a material planning consideration, however she would have concerns if Members granted permission without knowing what the effect would be on the ancient woodland as further investigation could establish an unacceptable impact.


Councillor Richardson confirmed that there were many advantages, one being an increase in visitor numbers and a financial gain to the Dale.  He referred to the former dutch barn, remembering a time when for eight months of the year, it was filled with hay and therefore obscuring the views.  He referred to a riding school at Raysgill and the permission granted for the caravan site and he was in favour of what the application would bring to the site as a whole.


The Chair confirmed that there were a number of Members in favour of accepting the application and he was concerned of the consequences if approval was given.  He asked for advice regarding whether the addition of conditions would offer protection.


The Planning Development Solicitor confirmed that the NPPF stated that the application should be refused if there was a loss of or deterioration to an ancient woodland and therefore a pre-commencement condition would not be suitable in the absence of knowing what the impact was.  She suggested that Members delegated the whole decision to Officers in conjunction with the Chair and Vice Chair, which would give greater flexibility and they could look to move the chalet if needed.  This would be a minded to approve decision.


Councillor Tinsley confirmed that there was no understanding of the effect on the ancient woodland because no assessment had taken place.  He queried what would happen if the Committee delegated the decision to Officers and the outcome of the assessment was negative and if the Officer would then be able to override the Committees decision and refuse the application.


The Planning Development Solicitor confirmed that if the impacts were unacceptable, the application would return to the Committee.


Councillor Brown confirmed that she was worried as this was an area of high landscape value with ancient woodland and the protected Lartington Park.  She understood there was a time limit on the grant and asked whether it could be determined within the time limit.


Councillor Jewell proposed that it should be deferred until the information with regards to the impact was known, seconded by Councillor Brown.


The Chair confirmed that he had three proposals, one to reject the application, one to accept the application, contrary to the officers recommendation and then a third to defer the application.




That the application be DEFERRED.

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