Contentious barn conversion in Yorkshire Dales National Park approved by councillors - despite being urged to turn it down

The field barn east of Grinton, which is to be converted into a farmworker's home. Credit: Google
The field barn east of Grinton, which is to be converted into a farmworker's home. Credit: Google
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Less than a year after the rejection of a plan to transform a former field barn in a Yorkshire Dales National Park conservation area triggered outrage among communities, legal concerns and a war of words, a scheme to convert the structure has been approved.

The park authority’s planning committee rejected officers’ advice to refuse the proposal in Grinton, Swaledale, in a move members said would signal a determination to stop the exodus of young people from the area and support the future of hill farming.

The meeting heard plans to convert the barn had been approved in October last year, only for it to be rejected two months later as members were warned approving the scheme could seriously undermine the authority’s ability to insist developers follow its planning policy.

In January, Upper Dales community leader John Blackie described the decision as “hostile to the well-being of the local communities”, who he said were furious about the authority’s decision over the Grinton barn as well as others in Wensleydale.

The authority’s leader, Carl Lis described the criticism as “strange” and replied: “It is an irony not lost on me that we have landowners trying to get permission to convert wholly unsuitable barns whilst not releasing land that has been specifically allocated for new housing development.”

Planning officers told the meeting the latest plan for the Grinton barn, which would see the creation of a new home in open countryside, conflicted with its Local Plan and that the scheme would produce no conservation benefit.

They said as only 65 per cent of the historic barn survives, it did not meet the authority’s criteria for conversion, and the proposed scheme to remove large extensions comprising rusting corrugated iron would create a fake historic building that had never existed.

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Members said it was a nonsense to suggest that eyesores such as the barn in its current state had to be retained simply because they are in conservation areas.

The meeting also heard the latest plan was different as it was more sensitive to the landscape and would enable life-long Swaledale residents Chris and Laura Porter to raise a family in the area as well as being on hand to tend to overwinter pedigree rams and lamb ewes in the spring.

An agent for the couple told members: “This authority is aware of the fragility of hill farming and is committed to working with stakeholders to safeguard its future. If members support this application today they will do something positive to address this challenge and send a message to other young people that they are valued and do have a place.

“Chris’s family are responsible for the upkeep of 45km of stone wall, 27 field barns, 1,000 acres of heather moorland, 150 acres of hay meadows. These resources are valued by all who are attracted to our national park. Without the retention of people with the skills to safeguard these landscapes, the Dales that we all love and fight to protect cannot be sustained. ”

Member and Wensleydale farmer Allen Kirkbride said the scheme was justified as there was a need for farm workers’ to be living near their stock on the farm overlooked by Grinton Moor.

He said: “The ideal situation would be to convert an eyesore into a house for a young family who is going to live in the Dales and farm in the Dales. The future of farming is at stake here.”