Alpacas helped us to get planning permission to build our eco home
Meet the couple who had to become farmers to realise their dream life off-grid.
T hree alpacas, seven or eight sheep, fifty pigs, a number of splendid chickens pecking in the autumn sunshine and countless rabbits were (almost) all it took for Tracey Scott and her husband, Matt, to secure planning permission to build an off-grid home on ten acres of their own arable land.
“We have gone down the agricultural tie route,” explains Tracey, 41. “Without the farm we wouldn’t be having a house.”
For Tracey, finally breaking earth is the realisation of a dream that started more than a decade ago in the caravan she moved to on her parents’ land in Norfolk, after a relationship breakdown. “Living in the caravan started out as a convenience arrangement when I moved back home. Because I had five dogs at
Ginnie & Tony Meakin Cherry Tree Farm, Sandfield Lane, Evesham, Worcestershire, WR11 7QS. 07702488118 or [email protected]
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Planning permission at wellground alpaca stud.
The \'Wellground\' was once a typical Wiltshire smallholding of just 6 acres with no buildings
The 'Wellground' was once a typical Wiltshire smallholding of just 6 acres with no buildings other than some timber stables. That was until the arrival of alpacas at Wellground Farm.
Bob and Lesley Rawlins began breeding alpacas back in the nineties. Their breeding programme involved the finest alpacas they could source for their foundation herd. This has paid off with an outstanding herd of top quality alpacas. Careful selection culminated in successfully breeding a superb white stud alpaca, 'Wellground Farleigh' who won the 'Supreme Champion' at Europe's biggest Alpaca Show, the Royal Bath and West Show in 2004.
Bob and Lesley wanted to farm Alpacas on their smallholding. They needed to live on the land to provide adequate care for the alpacas. Using a sound business plan involving breeding and farming alpacas on the existing 6 acres of grazing land, they successfully obtained temporary planning permission on the smallholding. Permission was given for a Canadian Log Cabin as their farmhouse (with Agricultural Tie). The dream of a solid timber log home came true. In March 2003, the farmhouse constructed entirely of Canadian eastern white pine was finished. A photographic sequence showing the construction of the Log Cabin can be seen on their web site at www.wellground.com .
Successfully obtaining Agricultural Tied Planning Permission for a dwelling on just 6 acres of grazing land gave heart to other smallholders. Encouragement has been given to others who also own small pockets of land and dream of living with their animals on their smallholding.
Thanks to the current viability of farming alpacas in the U.K. and the understanding of the Planning Authorities, Wellground Alpaca Stud was created from scratch. It became one of the Britain's first purpose built alpaca farms.
In November 2005, the Planning Authority gave 'permanent permission' to Wellground Alpaca Stud, based on the applicants successfully achieving the goals set for a 'functional test' and a 'financial test'.
Bob and Lesley Rawlins at Wellground have proved that Alpaca Farming has a viable future in the U.K. They are agents for the most successful Australian alpaca breeders Matthew and Catherine Lloyd at E P Cambridge. During 2006, Wellground Alpaca Stud are importing breeding female alpacas, the world's highest standard of alpacas, from EP Cambridge in Australia. The future is bright at Wellground.
So, what is involved in obtaining planning permission for an agricultural dwelling? Here is a prcis of the Planning Policy Statement by the Government.
Agricultural Occupancy Planning Permission - A Prcis of PPS 7 Planning Permission guidance is laid down to Local Authorities by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM). They have created a series of 'Planning Policy Statement' (PPS). For the purposes of Agricultural Occupancy Planning Permission, PPS7 Annex 'A' applies. PPS7 makes it clear that isolated new houses in the countryside require special justification for planning permission to be granted. There are provisions for 'Temporary' and 'Permanent' Agricultural Dwellings.
Permanent Planning Permission The annex explains that new Permanent dwellings should only be allowed to support existing agricultural activities on well-established agricultural units.
Temporary Planning Permission In relation to temporary planning permission, it says, If a new dwelling is essential to support a new farming activity, whether on a newly-created agricultural unit or an established one, it should normally, for the first three years, be provided by a caravan, a wooden structure which can be easily dismantled, or other temporary accommodation.
Criteria to be achieved for Planning Permission for Alpaca Farming There are many criteria to meet to satisfy the need for planning permission. Specifically the planning authorities will set two main tests, a Functional Test and a Financial Test.
A functional test is necessary to establish whether it is essential for the proper functioning of the enterprise for one or more workers to be readily available at most times, for example, if workers are needed to be on hand day and night.
Alpaca farming creates a specific need for workers to be on hand at day and night. Alpacas are induced ovulators, and as such do not have effective mating seasons. Unlike sheep and their lambing season, the alpaca can produce offspring in any month of the year and time of the day. (Although most offspring are born in daylight, some night birthing can be experienced.) This creates a functional need to care for the alpaca on site all year round and creates a need for the alpaca farmer to live on site and have a suitable dwelling.
Annex 'A' says that new permanent accommodation cannot be justified on agricultural grounds unless the farming enterprise is economically viable. A financial test is necessary for this purpose, and to provide evidence of the size of dwelling which the unit can sustain. In applying this test planning authorities are required to take a realistic approach to the level of profitability, taking account of the nature of the enterprise concerned. In most cases, the planning authorities require the 'alpaca farmer' to prove he can earn the minimum agricultural wage for each worker in the enterprise. This must be earned solely from the agricultural enterprise involved. Alpaca farming is proving to be one of the more flourishing areas of agriculture in current times. Satisfying the financial test will ultimately rely on the ability of the 'alpaca farmer' to put together a successful business plan that can prove to be effective and sustained.
Many Planning Authorities have now given planning permission based on Alpaca Farming. The full transcript of PPS7 Annex 'A' is available from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, and available to download from their web site www.odpm.gov.uk .
Anyone looking for information or advice regarding agricultural occupancy planning permission in relation to alpaca farming are welcome to contact Bob or Lesley Rawlins on 01380 830431. Try their web site at www.wellground.com for further information.
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On initially contemplating alpaca ownership, we attempted to buy a house with enough land to farm both them and care for our three horses. This proved to be a futile exercise in our area as everything on offer was so far out of our price range it was just ridiculous.
Rather than give up on our dreams, we next looked at the possibility of adding a further five acres to the land that we had purchased a few years earlier to graze and stable our horses on, we were very fortunate that there was land adjacent to us available and so with a little over ten acres acquired, our dreams began.
Armed with a sound and thorough business plan, our starter herd of alpacas, two portakabins, three children, two dogs and three horses, our planning agent kindly informed the local council planning department of our intentions, and we moved on to our land. A temporary planning application was submitted and within a short period of time, permission was duly granted.
By now you’re probably questioning the two portakabins, everything else we arrived with is pretty self-explanatory. The portakabins were to be the basis of our temporary accommodation.
The two thirty foot portakabins were positioned fifteen feet apart, running parallel to each other. A raised floor was assembled in the fifteen foot space between them and a roof constructed, which stretched across the three separate sections. Either end of the fifteen foot centre section was filled in to make a contained complete unit.
The interior of the portakabins were divided up into four bedrooms, two in each, plus an office in one and a bathroom in the other. The centre section became an open plan kitchen and living room. New windows, a Magnet kitchen, central heating and best of all a log burner completed our temporary construction and although it’s no five star hotel is comfortable and warm and very spacious especially in comparison to other temporary dwellings i.e. a caravan.
Our temporary permission to live on our land was granted for three years. At the end of this three year period we would have to prove to the planning department that our alpaca business was a genuine and viable business to justify the need for a permanent house to be built in replacement of our temporary dwelling.
The three years have flown by and in that time we have followed and fulfilled our original business plan. We have expanded our herd, developed a product line with our fibre and turned a new start up business into profit.
On submitting our new and updated business plan, our accounts and of course our plan for the new house, we were once again supported by the planning department and our permanent planning was granted.
We are grateful that the planning law is such that it enables small farming enterprises to exist, without this law Honeyfield Alpacas could not have happened.
The law gave us the opportunity and we have taken that opportunity to prove alpaca farming on a small acreage is both successful, achievable and makes for a viable business.
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Clare and Martin Stanger are stood surrounded by their champion alpacas on their 23-acre smallholding – and couldn’t be happier.
Six months ago, they moved into their large, new log farmhouse which sits on their land next to the barn. With a sleek, modern fitted kitchen/diner, cosy sitting room, three double bedrooms, ensuite shower room, family bathroom, cloakroom and utility room, their new home is their pride and joy. Their 86-strong alpaca herd and 80 rare breed sheep graze in the neighbouring fields. “We can now watch them through our windows, so you can see how they are getting on,” said Clare. “It’s so much easier than it used to be.”
The Stangers are typical of many of Norwegian Log’s rural customers who are able to live amongst their livestock, all thanks to their new home being ‘transportable’ and proving to their local council that they are able to run a profitable and sustainable business from their land.
The Stangers had been commuting between their home in a local village several miles away and their land, often at unsociable hours, so they could be with their animals. This was becoming increasingly difficult, with emergency dashes to assist animals giving birth, and so they knew they wanted to live on their land. “We needed to be with the alpacas for their security and welfare,” said Clare.
Securing planning permission for a brick building was problematic and, when talking to other alpaca breeders they recommended Norwegian Log Buildings, the Stangers made an appointment to visit the firm’s show home in Reading. This appointment was the turning point in their story….
Norwegian Log’s team explained the possibilities for a large farmhouse that would suit their needs perfectly but could also be classified as transportable, so meeting strict agricultural tie planning guidelines. “They were brilliant, really fantastic,” said Martin. With help from an agricultural planning consultant, the Stangers applied for permission and were granted temporary planning permission for a temporary building. They now have three years to prove they can build their business to meet the council’s requirements, something they are confident they can do.
As well as tending to their alpaca herd and sheep, they also run an online shop selling beautiful alpaca knitwear, attending shows and events around the UK. Their successful alpaca breeding means they sell these wonderful animals and offer alpaca chat experiences .
The build process for their home was a speedy one. Once planning permission was granted in July, Norwegian Log arrived on site in September and by Christmas, the Stangers had moved into their new home. “We absolutely love it. It’s so peaceful, calm and cosy,” said Clare.” You come back home and you are really glad to be back.”
“We are definitely more relaxed as we’re not rushing back and forth worrying about what might be happening with our animals, shuttling between the village and our land,” said Martin.
Reactions from friends and relatives have been nothing but positive. “Everybody’s reaction when they walk in is the same – ‘wow’. They don’t expect the space, the height of the ceilings and the size of the rooms,” said Clare. “We just love it. We really are living the Scandinavian dream!”
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21/p/00030 - yana alpacas, hawthorn farm, polesden lane, ripley, woking, gu23.
- Meeting of Planning Committee, Wednesday, 27th April, 2022 7.00 pm (Item PL5)
The Committee considered the above-mentioned application for proposed erection of a detached two storey permanent agricultural workers’ dwelling, and a general-purpose agricultural building, creation of new access with installation of gate and piers (amended description and amended plans received 25 November 2021).
Prior to consideration of the application, the following persons addressed the Committee in accordance with Public Speaking Procedure Rules 3(b):
· Mr Chris Lee (Chairman of Polesdon Lane Residents Association) (to object);
· Ms Josie Paul (to object) and;
· Mrs Vicky Webb (Applicant) (In Support)
The Committee received a presentation from the planning officer, Becky Souter. The proposal was for a new dwelling for the agricultural workers at an alpaca farm in Ripley as well as a general-purpose agricultural facility and new access. The site was part of Hawthorn Farm which is a small agricultural holding of 10.5 acres. The proposed site of the dwelling was in the northern part of the holding, outside of any identified settlement boundary and was within the Green Belt as well as a Site of Nature Conservation Importance and adjacent to a Site of Special Scientific Importance.
Given this siting as an isolated home in the countryside, the applicant had to prove an essential need, as per paragraph 80 of the NPPF. Furthermore, it was considered that if an essential need for the development in connection with agriculture can be identified then the proposed development would constitute appropriate development within the Green Belt. The site had up until recently focused on cattle farming, however in 2018 planning permission was granted for the siting of a temporary rural worker's dwelling as part of an alpaca breeding enterprise, as described in the Business Plan and Agricultural Assessment submitted as part of the 2018 application. This supporting letter submitted with the application stated that the enterprise had now been operating for three years and was demonstrated to be financially viable. The alpaca business commenced when the farm was purchased in 2018 and had therefore been established for at least three years. Officers were satisfied that the agricultural activity had been established for several years, had made sufficient profits to be financially sound and now had a clear prospect of remaining.
The site was in a rural position with only a handful of neighbouring properties. The Council's agricultural consultant advised that inspection of the locality and searches on the internet failed to identify any suitable property in close proximity to Hawthorn Farm either on Polesdon Lane or in Tannery Lane. Regardless, it had been demonstrated that there was an essential need for a worker to live on site and it was therefore considered unlikely that the urgent attention to livestock required by the workers could be properly provided by someone living further away from the holding. The proposed dwelling would be on a similar sized plot to the surrounding dwellings. The proposed dwelling would also be modest in height and in keeping with the two-storey scale of the surrounding dwellings. Whilst the design would vary to that of the established dwellings locally, it would be of traditional design. The elevations would incorporate traditional materials and detailing.
Given the spacious plots that characterised this part of Polesdon Lane it was not considered that the proposed dwelling would detract from the rural character of the streetscene or surrounding area. The proposed floor plans of the dwelling met with the national space standards and had a number of windows to ensure adequate daylight into the property. It also included an area to be used as a study but would allow for the operation of the business. There wouldn't be a need for an additional office space. The proposed agricultural building elevations had been designed clearly for agricultural purposes and would be functional in appearance with timber boarding to the elevations and fibre cement sheeting roof. This was in keeping with other agricultural buildings in the area and would not be excessive in size. It would measure a maximum height of 5 metres. The proposed dwelling would be in close proximity to the rear of the proposed dwelling and would minimise its visual impact within the wider surroundings. The site was also well screened by existing mature trees and hedging along the boundaries which was to be retained. The proximity of the building to the proposed new dwelling would also ensure there was a good surveillance of the building. The agricultural building would have a total footprint of 148 square metres. The Highways Authority had raised no concerns subject to conditions. The Lovelace Neighbourhood Plan required the provision of three parking spaces for a 3 bedroom or larger dwelling. Parking for 3 cars was provided on the proposed driveway and to the front the new dwelling with an additional parking area for up to two vehicles adjacent to the proposed new agricultural building.
There was a minimum separation distance of approximately 10 metres between the northern flank wall of the proposed new dwelling and the boundary of the site which adjoined a private access track that ran between the site and a neighbouring dwelling. Officers considered overall that sufficient proof of evidence of essential need had been provided by the applicant as well as the limited impact on the area from the proposed development. Because of these reasons the application has been recommended for approval subject to a Section 106 agreement to secure a SANG and SAMM contributions and subject to the conditions.
The Committee discussed the application and noted concerns raised that the Council’s agricultural consultant had rejected the proposal on the basis that the applicant had failed to prove the business would remain profitable and by virtue of that there was no need for a permanent dwelling. However, the applicant’s agricultural consultants had countered the arguments put forward. The Committee also noted that a similar application had been made in Effingham a few years ago for a joint livery stable and smallholding with sheep which was refused as the Committee was not convinced by the business case. The decision was appealed and allowed and had now turned into a thriving business. The Committee was interested to know why the Council had not gone back to the Farm Consultancy Group. The Committee also discussed condition 11 which stated that any external lighting needed to be suitable for bats. External security lighting could also impact nearby residents and have implications for Dark Skies policies. Would the lighting proposed be movement sensitive or put on a timer?
The Head of Place, Dan Ledger confirmed that the Council had not received a response from the Farm Consultancy Group despite contacting them on a number of occasions. Planning officers therefore had to deal with the application as best they could and had assessed the information concluding that sufficient evidence had been submitted to warrant essential need for the house. With regard to condition 11, it could be altered to require no external lighting was permitted, unless already previously agreed in writing.
The Committee noted concerns that the proposed dwelling was specifically to house agricultural workers but what if one of the persons who lived there no longer worked in that field, how would that be managed? The Head of Place, Dan Ledger stated that conditions should not be used for such a scenario and would not be upheld on appeal. A temporary unit had been in situ for some years already and was an ongoing operation already in place. Therefore, it was in the interests of the applicant to build in accordance with the planning permission. If one of the persons, no longer worked in agriculture then a replacement person would be required to carry on those operations.
The Committee remained concerned that the Council’s agricultural consultant had not responded. It represented an injustice to the applicant given the Council was committed to supporting businesses in the countryside. The Committee discussed whether deferral was an option given the circumstances.
The Committee queried whether the planning authority did monitor when a property did become vacant to ensure that its inhabitants were employed directly with the agricultural work it had been built for.
The Head of Place, Dan Ledger confirmed that if no agricultural operation was in existence, then there would need to be an application to change that condition. However, the Committee also needed to look at the history of the site and the fact that there had been a temporary agricultural dwelling on the site for the last three years. With regard to the lack of comment from the agricultural consultants, planning officers had sought their feedback, but it was not forthcoming. There were also a limited number of agricultural consultants that are available. Planning officers were satisfied that the scheme met with the appropriate planning policy criteria and had undertaken a detailed assessment of the scheme. Deferral of the proposed application was not recommended.
The Committee noted concerns raised that the dwelling was too big, given it had four bedrooms and would impact the openness of the Green Belt. The planning officers confirmed that the applicants were currently living in a mobile home and therefore needed permanent accommodation as a temporary home did not constitute a building. The test that was being applied was whether the new dwelling met the criteria for fulfilling an exception test on a rural agricultural workers dwelling. It was not about whether the replacement structure in the Green Belt was materially larger than the one it replaced. Planning officers considered that its current siting was acceptable, and the size of the proposed dwelling had been reduced in size through negotiation of the application.
A motion was moved and seconded to approve the application which was carried.
In conclusion, having taken account of the representations received in relation to the application, the Committee
RESOLVED to approve application 21/P/00030 subject to amended condition 11:
(i) That a S106 Agreement be entered into to secure the provision of:
· SANG and SAMM contributions in accordance with the formula of the updated tariff
If the terms of the S106 or wording of the planning conditions are significantly amended as part of ongoing S106 or planning condition(s) negotiations any changes shall be agreed in consultation with the Chairman of the Planning Committee and lead Ward Member.
(ii) That upon completion of the above, the application be determined by the Head of Place. The preliminary view is that the application should be granted subject to conditions.