Planners back £850,000 redevelopment of Bishopdale farm

Howe Syke Farm.

By Pip Land

A £850,000 redevelopment of Howe Syke farm in Bishopdale was given the green light by a large majority at the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority’s planning committee this week.

But that has to be confirmed at next month’s meeting because that decision was against the authority’s policies  stated the head of development management, Richard Graham.

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One of the committee members, Chris Clark, warned that there might be problems with the agricultural element of the scheme proposed by Rob and Helen Brown due to Brexit.

“I admire hugely the entrepreneurial approach to this,” he said.

However, he added: “Post Brexit there’s going to be a significant reduction of support …between ten to 40 per cent.  No farm in the dales can manage without support. Our hill farmers are going to be in real trouble.”

Mrs Brown, however, told the committee: “Our goal is to build a viable dales farm that can survive the pressures of the post Brexit world using a combination of farming, shooting and tourism.”

Their planning application is for: the erection of an extension to the existing farmhouse which would incorporate the adjoining barn into the domestic accommodation; the erection of two semi-detached rural workers cottages; the conversion of a modern barn into five short-term holiday lets with associated garages; the extension of the existing site office to provide kitchen facilities; and the erection of two agricultural barns.

Mrs Brown explained that the holiday lets would be used by shooting parties during the shooting season and would then be available to other visitors.

They not only needed good family accommodation for a gamekeeper, an apprentice gamekeeper and a farm manager, but also to improve the accommodation for themselves and their children, she said.

“It has taken three years of consultation with the Park’s officers and three pre-planning applications to put in this proposal,” she added.

But the planning officer recommended refusal.

Two members of the committee agreed with him that it would set a bad precedent if the Authority did not adhere to the long-standing national policy not to approve any new housing development in the open countryside unless it met an essential need.

A consultant had reported that there was a need for just one gamekeeper to live on site. As there were so few sheep at present a farm manager could be accommodated in a caravan for a three-year period while the number was being increased to 1,000.

The planning officer said that the proposed conversion of the modern agricultural building would perpetuate the visual harm caused by it, and the new barns would cause further harm.

He added that the proposed extension to the farmhouse and adjoining traditional barn would dominate and detract from the appearance, character and heritage of those buildings.

Several members, including North Yorkshire County Councillor John Blackie,  disagreed with all the reasons put forward for refusal.

Cllr Blackie mentioned the declining population in Middle and Upper Wensleydale and pointed out that there were now only about 35 people living in Bishopdale compared to hundreds at the beginning of the 20th century.

The Browns, he said, were willing to put their time and effort and investment into regenerating the dale and already had a seven-year record of doing that through various green initiatives such as planting trees and installing hydro-electric power.

Ian McPherson was among those who agreed with him.

He stated that the policies could be interpreted in various ways. “We could look at the detail and fail to take advantage of what could be a major source of employment. I think this is an adventurous project,” he said.

And Steve Macaré stated: “I think we should be bold and support this enterprise as the potential damage to the landscape [will be] minimal.”

North Yorkshire County Councillor Roger Harrison-Topham in his final speech to the committee (he will not stand for re-election) believed there was a functional need already for three workers and shooting parties would not want to stay there if there were caravans on the site.

Aysgarth and District Parish Council was praised by Allen Kirkbride for giving substantial reasons for supporting the application.

“Without them this would not have been brought to this meeting,” he said.

From the ARC News Service