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Monday, 25 May 2015

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Councillor may appeal as colleagues reject his plans

THE chairman of Northumberland National Park Authority is considering appealing after being told he cannot upgrade buildings on his 19th century farm.

John Riddle, who is a county councillor, was refused planning permission by his own council to convert agricultural buildings at Blakelaw Farm, Bellingham, into four modern houses.

Coun. Riddle has represented Bellingham on Northumberland County Council for 23 years and the 1,100-acre farm has been in his family for four generations.

He and wife Zaina now want to increase their accommodation, but as the buildings are classed as heritage assets, some alterations are forbidden and councillors feared opening the floodgates if the scheme was given the go-ahead.

“Obviously I’m very disappointed that they thought that way,” said Coun. Riddle, who also chairs the National Association of National Parks. “I don’t believe it’s different to what hundreds of other farms have been allowed to do in Northumberland.

“Personally, I believe that because I’m a councillor, they are being ultra-careful.

“But we will probably go to appeal, and probably put in a parallel application.”

The site lies in the open countryside approximately 1.5km to the north of Bellingham, with the boundary of Northumberland National Park situated around 0.5km away.

The farm buildings affected form a U-shape to the west of the main farmhouse at Blakelaw and would become four two-bedroom homes.

Car parking would be provided, and the dwellings would be accessed from the private driveway that currently services the farm at Blakelaw and two cottages to the east.

The plans received the support of Bellingham Parish Council, but the county council’s historic buildings adviser objected because of unwarranted harm to the buildings, which are considered as heritage assets.

At the latest meeting of the council’s west area committee, Coun. Colin Horncastle said: “It’s a difficult application, but let’s not beat about the bush; the applicant is a fellow councillor.

“If we were to grant permission as it stands, we would be going against everything we’ve done in this chamber over x number of years, and we would be seen to be doing that for a fellow councillor.

“Very rarely in this chamber do we see a conversion of a farm building with design for an extension because everybody knows we never allow extensions to farm buildings.

“But these are the policies and we have to stick to them for consistency.”

Coun. Bill Garrett said: “The bottom line to me is that this application breaches nine or 10 of our core policies.

“We would be shooting ourselves in the foot and opening up the floodgates if we passed this.

“Everybody else would be making similar applications and we wouldn’t have a leg to stand on in refusing them.

“We would make ourselves look foolish.”

The application was turned down unanimously.

Coun. Riddle’s planning agent, Keith Butler, said: “The proposals do not involve the loss of any significant historic asset.

“Hundreds of farmers in Northumberland have carried out similar work, and there would be no precedent set at Blakelaw.”