18 January 2002

Agri occupancy wrangle ends in farmers favour

A PRODUCER prosecuted for failing to spend enough time farming claimed victory after the case against him was dropped.

Len Webster, of Chestnut Farm, near Stokesley, North Yorks, was in a long-running dispute with Hambleton District Council for breaking an agricultural occupancy condition on his farmhouse.

Mr Webster obtained planning permission for a house on his farm at Great Busby 10 years ago on condition the occupant was employed mainly in agriculture.

But when he started offering B&B at the house in 1995, the council responded by serving Mr Webster with a breach of condition notice and followed that with a prosecution.

The council has now withdrawn the case at Richmond Magistrates Court, leaving taxpayers to pick up the bill.

Mr Webster said: "Im very pleased the case has been withdrawn. The farming industry has changed so much in the past five to 10 years. Central government needs to start addressing the issues surrounding occupancy conditions, perhaps making them for a fixed period, rather than permanent."

Simon Catterall, Mr Websters solicitor, added: "Agriculture is changing fast and local authorities like Hambleton should be encouraging diversification, not standing in the way."

A council spokesman said it had acted in accordance with national guidelines when it initiated the prosecution. &#42