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Gloucestershire Business News

EXCLUSIVE: Shed and buried? Conversion bid gets a 'no'

A controversial bid to convert a former fodder store and workshop on a Forest of Dean farm near Lydney into a residential home has been rejected by planners after residents and a parish council objected to the project.

Land owners at Eastwood Lodge Farm at Parkhill, near Woolaston, asked Forest of Dean District Council for permission to create a home at the site, despite an earlier refusal for conversion. Applicants Mr and Mrs John Williams previously commenced work on the building without approval.

In its consultation, Woolaston Parish Council flagged its concern that there were several ambiguities in the couple's application, and there was "not a clear outstanding case or reason to support it".

The council added: "The agricultural barn is in an agricultural area and the parish council is strongly opposed to any change of use from agricultural to domestic purposes.

The council also claimed: "change of use of this kind, could potentially cause significant adverse impact on the character of this rural area" and that it would not like to see such a precedent for future applications. The local roads are unsuitable to cater for the increase in traffic which a residential development would bring."

Another neighbour queried why they had not been informed by post of the requested change - and warned that the rural nature of the area was unsuitable for more development.

A case report from FoDDC planning officer Roland Close covered a complex history of planning activity for the building: Mr and Mrs Williams had purchased neighbouring Slade Farm, 500 metres to the north-east of the site, in 1972. The farm had 16 hectares of freehold land, he said, while they also permanently rented a further 12 hectares and rented another eight hectares when required.

He explained: "Although initially profitable, the farm lost money from 1996 to 2001. That Farm was sold by Mr and Mrs Williams in September of 2001 but Mr and Mrs Williams retained six hectares which now forms what is known as Eastwood Lodge Farm."

Accessed via a narrow track with no passing places and joining a dead-end lane, the site had been subject to a bid for a mobile home which was refused on appeal in 2005.

An enforcement notice was issued more recently, in 2015, alleging change of use of the land from agricultural use to a mixed-use comprising agriculture and residential use, although this was subsequently quashed a year later on the basis of being "vague and uncertain in terms of its requirements".

That decision, Mr Close added, had noted that the "appellant's evidence that just rudimentary facilities are provided for when they need to stay there during lambing and calving times is simply not credible in my view and cannot be reconciled with what I saw."

A subsequent bid for use of the barn as a dwelling was then refused in 2016, and again on appeal in 2017. But in 2019, after refusal for changes to the barn for a flue and rooflight, an appeal was allowed.

The report added that Mr and Mrs Williams maintained that the building was completed in accordance with plans approved under reference P0171/08/FUL and that "it was only after that date that they undertook the internal works (such as the erection of internal partition walls, provision of internal doors with brass handles, the fitting of a staircase, the provision of recessed ceiling lights, electrical sockets fitted etc).

"Mr Williams is correct that IF these were installed after the agricultural building was completed and used for agricultural purposes then those internal works do not represent development requiring planning permission (despite the building now having all the physical attributes as an incomplete dwelling)."

However, Mr Close added: "It remains a mystery to the [planning authority] as to why Mr and Mrs Williams would have undertaken such internal works if it was not their intent to use the building as a dwellinghouse (which they maintain they have never done)."

Claims set out in a Design and Access statement from Monmouthshire-based Powells Planning and Development suggested bat surveys had been conducted (which found bat roosts that were only transitional sites for non-breeding bats), that original use of the building for feed and fodder was now redundant and that one building would not have a negative impact on local roads. 

Natural England also raised no objection. However, planners refused the application. 

It is unknown whether the applicant will appeal.

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