ARC News Service reports on the first internet online meeting of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority’s (YDNPA) planning committee held on Tuesday May 12 2020. The items discussed were: the proposed re-occupation of a house at West Stonesdale, Swaledale; the erection of a camping cabin at High Woodend Farm, Tebay; and a listed building application for alterations to Yarnbury Lodge near Grassington.
The most significant factor about this meeting was that every speaker could be clearly heard. There are regularly occasions at the meetings at Bainbridge when it is very hard, often impossible to hear what some speakers (usually the same ones) are saying.
A young couples’ dream of diversifying their farm by the re-occupation of a Victorian moorland house near Keld in Swaledale has been held up due to lack of information and wildlife surveys.
The majority of the members voted to refuse an application by Mark and Linda Rukin to restore the two bedroom house known as High Frith at West Stonesdale, replace the roof to the rear lean-to and create a twin wheeling stone track to the property.
The head of development management, Richard Graham, told the committee that the decision could have been very different if the planning officers had received all the information they had requested over the past four years.
When asked why it had taken four years Mr Graham replied: ‘This was a finely balanced application. If you keep on asking for the information knowing these issues can be resolved and it might result in a positive recommendation then that’s what you do. We haven’t brought this application to committee at the drop of a hat just asking for refusal. It’s taken a long, long time and a lot of consideration. What’s been a little disconcerting or frustrating is that we only found out last week that the applicant had actually been changed. The ownership had been changed over two years ago.’
When presenting the planning report he said that this wasn’t a case of a young family in need of a home to be able to stay in the Dales as they already had one. The proposal was, he explained, for High Frith to be re-occupied to form an open market house. It was, he said, in a very remote upland location characterised by its wild natural beauty and tranquillity.
‘The house would need to be connected to central services which will entail providing 500 metres of electricity line. The agent says that this could be undergrounded but it is not clear that the very high cost or the feasibility of doing this has been properly investigated. It is not always possible to underground electricity cable in upland locations particularly where the bedrock is very close to the surface.
‘In addition, the building has potential to support bats and protected bird species. Unfortunately the original applicant considered that a proper survey would be an unnecessary expense. The lack of a proper survey of the building for protected species is a significant stumbling block. Without that information the Authority cannot discharge its legal duty under the Habitats Regulations and the Habitats Directive. The Authority would be acting unlawfully if permission is granted without a proper assessment.’
‘On one hand the proposal would conserve a traditional building albeit not one of any special significance. On the other hand there are questions about undergrounding power lines and protecting wildlife that have not been adequately addressed. The proposal would realise an asset for the farm business but in doing so would have a negative impact on the scenic beauty of a wild and tranquil upland landscape through the creation of a new track, the re-occupation of the building with lighting and curtilage developments, all of which is required for a house in permanent occupation.’
A statement from the applicants, Mark and Linda Rukin, was read: ‘We are a young couple and we have always lived and worked in the area. We’ve got two daughters aged six and four and we are expecting our third child in August. We are both from farming families in Swaledale and our goal is to continue living and working in the dale whilst raising our children. In the current climate with the future of farming being so uncertain, we’ve been encouraged to diversify where possible. We hoped that re-occupying High Frith would help to provide an additional income to allow us to continue farming traditionally in the uplands.
‘As custodians of the countryside, we’d hate to have to watch the former dwelling fall into a worse state of disrepair and become an eyesore, which we know will happen without some attention but without a use we just cannot justify any spending on the property.’
The Rukins pointed out that over time the stone used to resurface the twin-wheeling section of the track would blend into the landscape the same way as many other farm tracks have done.
Several members of the committee agreed with Mr Graham that the decision was a finely balanced one and that the lack of information, and especially the survey of protected species, was a major stumbling block.
However, North Yorkshire County councillor Robert Heseltine commented: ‘To my mind the only justification for re-occupation would be the agricultural land management need and that would be with a clear agricultural tie.’ He also argued that a family dwelling in that remote location would be unsustainable due to such issues as the provision of local authority services and other services.
Craven District councillor Richard Foster wanted to know what the family intended to do with the house if it was restored. He commented: ‘If its going to be sold off its not really going to help the farm business [but] holiday accommodation would.’
Member Allen Kirkbride proposed that the decision should be deferred for a month to give the family time to provide the information requested. He didn’t feel that the new proposed track would be so visible and pointed out that in Swaledale, Malhamdale and Upper Wharfedale there were many solitary farm houses up on the moors.
He said: ‘To have this one lived in again would be a great benefit. For the wildlife species the applicant is willing, if approval [is given] to do a wildlife survey up to the standard that is necessary. He can’t really see the point of having to spend a lot of money (he’s a dales farmer) to do a survey if it’s not going to get planning permission.’ Cllr Foster, who is a dales farmer, was not impressed with the reluctance to pay for the required surveys.
Supporting the call for deferral Richmondshire District councillor John Amsden said: ‘We have got to bring these houses back again. Is the National Park going to keep these barns and old houses in good condition or are you going to leave it to the farmers to do it? There’s a lot of houses high up [on the moors] and we want to bring these houses back [into use] again. It’s ridiculous just letting them fall down.’ He added that there had been a curtilage wall and a track at High Frith many years ago.
North Yorkshire County councillor David Ireton asked what would happen if the application was refused. Mr Graham replied that the applicants would have six months in which to come back with a fresh application without having to pay another application fee. He added: ‘The list of information that members require and what we have asked for in the report is going to probably take longer than a month to provide.’
And so the majority voted to refuse the application.
A camping cabin purpose-built for providing holiday accommodation for the disabled can be erected at High Woodend Farm overlooking Tebay.
The chair of Tebay Parish Council, Cllr Adrian Todd, informed the committee that if the farm was not allowed to diversify if would become uneconomic and cease to exist.
And a member of the committee, Allen Kirkbride, pointed out that such specialised accommodation for handicapped people was very rare in the Dales.
A planning officer had recommended that the application should be refused because the cabin with its decking and parking area would be in such a prominent position on a hill that it would harm the character and visual quality of the rural landscape.
Member Jim Munday agreed and stated: ‘For my money one of the best sights in Britain is when you drive north from the Sedbergh turnoff of the M6 and on the east side of the road you see the Howgills. They are fantastic. Sadly, in my opinion, this structure would stand out like a sore thumb in what is an outstanding landscape.’
Another member, Ian McPherson who is a Sedbergh parish councillor, disagreed. “I know this area very, very well. The view that you get of Tebay [from the M6} is a mix of commercial, agriculture and residential housing. This is a matter of interpretation but I cannot agree with Mr Munday that [the cabin] would stand out like a sore thumb. I do not think you will notice it at all.
‘I think credit can be given to the applicants for the thought and consideration that they have put into planning this particular building and putting it in the only place they feel is viable for their farm to continue to be a working farm but provide good facilities as well.’
In his statement to the meeting Cllr Todd, said: ‘The application is for a single camping cabin providing much needed purpose-built disabled family accommodation for tourists in the Upper Lune valley. The cabin is specifically and carefully designed to include a wet room, fully adapted kitchen and other essential disabled facilities. Tourism is vital to the local economy, and it is important that the needs of every sector are catered for.
‘The building [will be] within the curtilage of the farm and located on the only suitable site taking into account the practical needs of this small working hill farm which is a factor that [planning] officers have failed to appreciate or properly and sensitively consider.
‘The survival of this upland livestock farm – and the way of life that goes with it – is hanging in the balance. If the farm is not allowed to diversify it will become uneconomic and cease to exist. This would be a devastating blow to the local community which places a very high value on its agricultural heritage.’
In her statement the applicant’s agent said: ‘Due to health and safety, accessibility and animal health reasons there is no option to locate the cabin elsewhere within the site that is less open. The chosen location allows the cabin to nestle against the backdrop of the existing farm buildings.’
The majority of the committee voted to approve the application against the officer’s recommendation. That usually means the application would be referred back to the next meeting. But on this occasion Mr Graham stated that it would not be as members had put forward very good reasons and material considerations for approval.
These were that the development would provide an opportunity for farm diversification; provide tourism accommodation specifically designed for disabled and wheelchair-using visitors; the structure would not be overly prominent or out of place in the landscape; and that the design was innovative and would not be unduly harmful to the landscape.
An application cannot be rejected because of supposition and rumour stated Lancashire County councillor Cosima Towneley.
The committee unanimously approved a listed building application for internal alterations to the ground and first floors of Yarnbury Lodge in Old Moor Lane, Grassington, plus changing a door to a window after accepting the advice of the head of development management, Richard Graham, that the works would not cause significant harm to the Grade 2 listed building. The alterations include creating two new bathrooms.
In a statement to the meeting Maria Ferguson, the agent for the owners (Mr and Mrs Law) explained that the alterations related almost entirely to an extension which was built in 1998 and had no historic significance.
She told the committee: ‘There is suspicion and rumour that they intend this to be a commercial shooting lodge…or a hotel. This is not the case. There is no secret in the fact that Mr and Mrs Law live in London. Mr Law hails from the North of England and it is important he has a base here. His parents still live in the North. The intention is to use the property solely as a private residential dwelling for himself, family and close friends.’
She added that in objecting to the application Grassington Parish Council had failed to recognise the significant sum required to restore the property nor the economic benefits to the area as the Laws intended to employ locals to carry out the work. She explained that the Laws had also applied to improve and alter The Smithy which was near Yarnbury Lodge so that his parents could use it.
Craven District councillor Richard Foster commented that it was a shame to lose two family homes but he accepted that the Laws did intend to live there some of the time. He also accepted Mr Graham’s advice that there was no reason to turn down the application.
Grassington Parish Council had commented that the application sought to change the internal layout from an historic family home and office to what could only be described as a mini hotel. The parish council asked what justification there was for such a change which would inevitably mean the loss of a historically significant building.
The Authority’s senior listed building officer stated that the amount of bathrooms was an issue because of the increased moisture content within the historic building; the application of waterproof materials such as paint and tiling could trigger more damp in an historic building; the number of bathrooms exceeded what was proportionate to the use and upset the balance between service rooms and other rooms expected in a historic house; and that the amount of tiling and bathroom fixtures would have a visual impact and the associated pipework could result in loss of damage of historic fabric and features.
A planning officer reported that in the mid 19th century the house had once been the home of the Duke of Devonshire’s mineral agent. He stated: ‘Yarnbury Lodge is an imposing house. It is listed in its own right but the listing description notes that it was probably part of the development of the whole site in association with the development of the lead mining industry at that time. There are four houses within Yarnbury, all the buildings within the area are listed and much of the surrounding area is a Scheduled Ancient Monument.