Friday, July 4, 2014
A landowner has been told he must take down an agricultural building at a former quarry near Dereham – a structure which he was hoping to convert into a visitor centre for a controversial “country park”.
A government inspector has rejected an appeal made by Basil Todd relating to the development on his land at Billingford Lakes, and he also upheld Breckland Council’s enforcement notice for its removal.
Mr Todd has been given nine months to take down the building, which was constructed with an unapproved extension in 2012.
He will also not be able to build the visitor centre and camping pods which he wanted to add to a scheme he envisaged would attract schools and youth groups to camp on the site and learn about wildlife and the countryside.
The decision comes days before Breckland planners are due to meet to discuss a separate proposal from Mr Todd – to convert the agricultural building into the visitor centre.
This is due to be determined on Monday and, after two deferrals, has been recommended for approval. Breckland councillor for Billingford Bill Borrett said, after a lengthy discussion on Wednesday morning, it was decided that the committee would be given a copy of the inspector’s decision to consider at the meeting alongside the officer’s report.
The long-running battle at Billingford began when Mr Todd was refused retrospective planning permission by Breckland Council for an extension to the building, which was constructed on the site double the size he was permitted. He was served an enforcement notice to take it down but appealed against both decisions.
In the meantime he applied for permission to build the 37m by 12m visitor centre, housing a meeting room, cafe, toilets and shop along with camping pods for overnight visitors. This raised concerns among local residents who objected to it mainly on grounds of it being an unsuitable development in the protected and sensitive Wensum Valley, and it was also refused by planners.
Mr Todd appealed against this decision and the government inspector Keri Williams held a public inquiry into all three appeals last month.
Mr Williams’ statement, issued on Tuesday, dismissed all the appeals, upholding the enforcement notice with one variation, that Mr Todd has nine months to remove the building instead of three.
In his report he says: “The balance of evidence does not suggest that such a building would be reasonably necessary for the purposes of agriculture.”
With regards to his decision to uphold the council’s refusal of the visitor centre and camping pods, the inspector’s statement says that while the development would not have a significant effect on the River Wensum or on protected species, “the extent of the development proposed would be materially harmful to the predominantly open character of the site and its surroundings”.
Trevor Wood, chairman of Hoe and Worthing parish meeting, said: “The appeal decision received today shows that there is no proven need for this development, no justification for the employment claims made for it and that even something smaller would be materially harmful to the character of the area.
“The future of this beautiful river valley is in the hands of our councillors who meet on Monday.”