Countryside home for alpaca farmer refused

A new home in the green belt to the south of Morpeth, to allow a farmer to look after his alpacas and rare-breed sheep, has been rejected by councillors.

Wednesday, 15th May 2019, 09:30 am
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Eric Fail’s application, for land south of West Duddo Farm Cottages, around two miles west of Stannington, was refused by four votes to zero, but with four abstentions, at Monday’s (May 13) Castle Morpeth Local Area Council meeting.

The new property was to have involved the conversion of an existing stable and summerhouse on the site, which are currently used while caring for the animals – 30 Soay sheep, four ryeland sheep and four alpacas.

Planning officers had recommended refusal as they believe the scheme does not meet the criteria for a rural worker’s dwelling, one of the special circumstances which can allow development in the open countryside and green belt.

Given the small numbers and the lack of breeding up until now, the council’s independent advisor ‘considers that the labour requirement is for only around 0.1 of a full-time worker and it is not a financially sound sustainable business to warrant a rural worker on site’.

The application only sparked one objection but was, however, supported by 13 neighbours as well as Stannington Parish Council.

Its chairman, Coun Karen Carins, underlined the importance of the rural economy and supporting small businesses, adding: “It can be a financially viable business once a breeding programme is implemented.”

Neighbour Laurie Wilson added: “The Fails are an asset to our community and bring something very special with their small enterprise.”

The applicants’ agent, Tony Carter, said: “Mr and Mrs Fail simply want to live on the land on which they run their enterprise.

“Where is the harm going to be borne out of this proposal? The simple answer is none.”

However, moving refusal, Coun Richard Dodd, said: “I don’t doubt the applicants are honest, hard-working, all of that, but as a farmer, I can’t sit here and have the wool pulled over my eyes.

“The numbers are so way down. In commercial terms, it has to stack up. I know this is rare breeds which is slightly different, but with sheep you would need at least 500 to make it pay.”

Coun Richard Wearmouth felt he couldn’t form an opinion on the proposals, while Coun David Towns said he was ‘struggling with this in my head’.

Coun Veronica Jones said she was sympathetic to the applicants, but added: “I’m not sure the amount of activity taking place justifies it.”

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service