Future of farming at stake say national park members before deciding on controversial applications

The field barn east of Grinton, which it is proposed to convert into a farmworker's home.

The future of farming in the Dales was at stake warned members of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority’s planning committee.

The majority refused the advice of officer to approve an application by the Chatsworth Settlement Trustees for Bolton Abbey Estate to change the use of a dwelling, barn and agricultural buildings to form offices, storage buildings and workshops at Red Lion Farm, Beamsley partly because this would mean a tenant farmer and his family would have to move out of their home.

They also went against officer’s advice when they approved an application to convert Shoemaker Barn at Grinton into an agricultural worker’s dwelling.

Both decisions have been referred back to the meeting on December 10 and that was especially questioned by members following the overwhelming vote to refuse the application concerning Red Lion Farm.

The head of development management, Richard Graham, said officers needed to analyse the reasons put forward by the members to ensure that they were defensible in court.

He added: “The reference back wouldn’t be for officers to reinforce their reasons for their recommendations.”

Parish council representative Allen Kirkbride told the committee during the discussion about Shoemaker Barn: “This will turn an eyesore into a home for a young family which is going to live in the Dales and farm in the Dales.”

He noted that similar had been said about the younger members of the Winterburn family at Red Lion Farm and stated: “The future of farming in the Dales is at stake here and we need young people.”

Joanna Winterburn had told the committee: “This is a frightening experience for me, my family and it affects a lot of other people all in aid of creating storage and offices.

“Without successive tenancies the young generation will move out of the area in search of security, taking with them the skills passed on through countless generations.”

John Akrigg, the agent for Chris Porter and his wife who had applied to convert Shoemaker Barn to create a family home for themselves, said: “Without the retention of the people who possess the skills to safeguard  these landscape features the Dales that we all  love and fight to protect cannot be sustained.”

Richmondshire District councillor John Amsden said it wasn’t right to kick a tenant farmer out to provide storage facilities a commented later:  “It’s the farmers who keep the landscape looking lovely for tourists. They don’t do it for you lot – they do it for a living and it’s a very hard living.”

The planning officer had recommended refusal of the Porters’ application because they had not proved a need for an agricultural worker’s dwelling at Grinton and because: “The proposal would lead to the creation of a fake and prominent ‘traditional barn’ that never previously existed which would result in a harmful and disruptive effect on the understanding of the historic landscape and the significance of the Barns and Walls Conservation Area.”

Cllr Kirkbride, who wasn’t the only Member who described Shoemaker Barn as an ugly eyesore, told the committee that the Parsons wanted to return the barn to how it had looked in the past.

He was supported by Member Jocelyn Manners Armstrong  who said: “There is an interesting traditional building which they do want to restore.”

Like other Members she accepted there was a need for an agricultural worker’s dwelling at Grinton for the whole farm enterprise as the extended Porter family owns land from there to Gunnerside.

Member Ian McPherson commented: “Given the need to support and nurture and enhance farming in the Dales and in view of the fact of the reports relating to individual members of the family and their health concerns…. I feel the benefit of the doubt should be given to the applicants [the Parsons].”

About the Red Lion Farm application he said that the approach by the Chatsworth Settlement Trustees was “completely unconscionable”.

“I cannot imagine where they are coming from if they are taking the view that the store requirements… overrides this very long standing tenancy and the needs of a Dales farmer and his family who have been farming in the area for generations.”

The Chatsworth Settlement Trustees’ agent, John Steel, said that several members of staff and equipment had been displaced when the Tithe Barn on Bolton Abbey Estate was restored.

Of Red Lion Farm he stated: “This site offers a very convenient location on a single complex that can accommodate the Estate maintenance teams.”

He said the Estate was offering the Winterburns an alternative home and compensation that greatly exceeded the statutory minimum and alternative farm buildings. But, he added, the Estate would not allow any more buildings to be constructed.

He continued: “The 44 acres we believe cannot generate sufficient income to support two full-time workers. The farm shop … opens three days a week and the income generated has never been of sufficiently high level where it needs to be taken into account for reviews. Whilst the long-standing tenant is facing change it is a change that will not make the family homeless nor deprive them of the ability to continue farming.”

But North Yorkshire County councillor Robert Heseltine quoted the Tenant Farmers Association (TFA) that neither the new home nor the compensation being offered would guarantee that the Winterburns could continue farming as they currently do and stated: “If this application is successful it will be the final nail in the coffin of this Dales’ farming business. “

He said the Bolton Abbey Estate had hundreds of traditional and modern agricultural buildings that could be used instead. Other members pointed out that as the agricultural buildings at Red Lion Farm were still in use so it would not be in accordance with policy to allow a change of use.

And Mrs Manners Armstrong stated: “To approve this would be in conflict with our first purpose – to conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the National Park. And if a Dale’s farm has been in functional operation for 300 years is not a cultural heritage I don’t know what is. To me we have to protect this – this is very important”.

ARC News Service