26 June 1998

Hill farmers count cost of restrictions on building work

Repairing existing buildings

and fulfilling planners

specifications are proving

expensive on one Lancs unit.

Jeremy Hunt reports

Planning departments must adopt a more sympathetic approach to new farm buildings in upland areas, says Lancs hill farmer Peter Bennett.

Looking down into the Rossendale Valley from his farm, which stands at 305m (1000ft) above the village of Crawshaw-booth, Rawtenstall, near Black-burn, the start of an extensive new housing development is visible.

"I cannot understand how this sort of residential development in the valley bottom, which sticks out like a sore thumb to me and anyone else who lives or walks on these hills, is approved when solitary farm buildings almost hidden from view meet a host of planning restrictions," Mr Bennett says.

His 36ha (88 acres) Laund Farm, plus 12ha (30 acres) of rented land, runs to 396m (1300ft) of enclosed heather moor and rough grazing. It supports 100 Gritstone and Swaledale ewes producing store lambs by Suffolk and Texel sires and a small herd of Aberdeen Angus-cross suckler cows.

Mr Bennett moved to the farm, which includes a Grade II listed farmhouse and buildings, in 1989. The farmstead is at the end of a track one mile from the main road.

Cow numbers have been gradually increased to 40 since taking over the farm and an application for suckler cow quota was made this year.

Part-time work as an electrician provides essential supplementary income, but the 40 units of suckler cow quota, if allocated, will lift cattle income by around £8000 and reduce dependency on work undertaken away from the farm.

Winters are at least 200 days because there is little grazing before May and only one cut of silage is made with 50% of winter forage bought in.

Spring-born calves are sold as strong yearling stores but the need to overwinter them inside has put severe pressure on existing cattle accommodation.

The Grade II listing of the property, which has led to protracted negotiations with planners over improvement, has now been extended to an existing stone barn a few feet from the farmhouse.

The barn, which incorporates a shippon, is in poor repair and in a state of imminent collapse. Mr Bennett has sought advice on its improvement from the local planning office but cannot afford to carry out the necessary repairs to the standards required for this type of listed building.

And he has also encountered planning problems for new stock housing. In 1991 a planning application was approved for a new pig building measuring 30.5m x 6m (100ft x 20ft). But in granting approval the planners imposed stone facing on three sides of the open-fronted house.

Mr Bennett says stone facing significantly increases buildings costs and grants are not available.

"Costs can quadruple if you have to face block work with stone – another stretch of wall measuring 10m x 1.5m (33ft x 5ft) on a renovated building cost £1600 because we had to face it in stone."

Mr Bennett says the planners insistence that everything remains in a garb of the 18th century is not practical and threatens the future of efficient and viable farming in the Lancs hills and elsewhere.

"Steel frame buildings with Yorkshire board cladding and asbestos roofs are not an eyesore in hill areas if they are planned and built correctly," he says.

He argues that for farms to remain in business it is vital they can maintain stock numbers at the correct level to manage the upland landscape properly. To carry that level of stock it is essential there are sufficient buildings to house them for at least 200 days a year.

"If we cannot have the buildings we cannot have the stock and without the stock there will be no farming in these hills and eventually no landscape."

Part of the footings are in place to meet the planning approval of the building passed in 1991, but the proposal to move into pig production has been shelved.

Now extra space is needed for winter housing for cattle. Work will soon begin again to erect half the building for which planning permission was approved. Although it will have to be faced in stone, Mr Bennett says he will only be able to complete the aesthetics when he can afford it.

The aim is to apply for further planning approval at a later stage to link the new building to existing cattle housing a few yards away, creating a new total stock area of 10m x 16m (33ft x 52ft).

"But I fear it could take us at least a year before we achieve approval to link the two buildings together," says Mr Bennett

He adds that planners are "following the official line without thinking it through".

"Planners need to develop a much deeper understanding of the practical needs of farmers in hill areas. There is something wrong when a planner tells me that he is concerned about the visual impact on the countryside of any buildings I erect on my farm when I have look down from my yard on to 300 new houses." &#42

Stone facing can quadruple the cost of erecting new buildings and grants are unavailable to ease the burden, says Lancs hill producer Peter Bennett

PLANNING DILEMMA

&#8226 Grade II listed building.

&#8226 Expensive to repair.

&#8226 Planners demands difficult to meet.