No enforcement action for Earls Barton farm shop

The business has been operating from the site since 1984.
The business has been operating from the site since 1984.

A popular family-run farm shop in Earls Barton can continue to trade without enforcement now a complicated planning wrangle has been dealt with.

There was an hour of deliberations, legal advice and much head scratching at Wellingborough planning committee last night (May 18) before councillors voted against officer advice and decided the authority should issue a lawful development certificate for the existing buildings at Whites Nurseries.

James White, who runs the wholesale business with his brother Edward said he is ‘relieved the matter is over’ and means the business, which employs 20 staff can move forward with a planning application for a butchers, delicatessen and cafe at the site in Clay Lane.

The brothers took over the family business after the death of their father Michael ten years ago. He had been running the business at the location since 1984.

In dealing with the probate, their solicitor had written to the council and was told in writing by former planning officer Michael Kilpin that they had permission for activity on the site as ‘the uses and works have become legitimised by the passing of time’.

But it came to light a couple of months ago when the brothers were in the process of applying for this latest planning permission that they did not have permission for the existing buildings on the site and that permission granted in 2003 was for agricultural use.

They had also not been paying the correct business rates, which was an error on the council’s part.

A report considered by the committee last night read: “ The site subject to this lawful development certificate has a complex planning history. In short, there does not appear to be any explicit planning permission for the buildings in situ and their use for retail purposes, nor does it have planning permission for any use other than the established agricultural use.”

To continue to trade from the site without enforcement the business owners had to apply for a lawful development certificate in which they had to prove the site had been trading for ten continuous years.”

After considering the evidence, the council’s planning officer Matthew Brown had recommended the lawful use be refused on the grounds there was not sufficient evidence to prove the use of the development was lawful in planning terms. Sworn statements made by the brothers and the authority’s former planning officer Michael Kilpin, – who had said the activities on the site was lawful – were also deemed to be ‘imprecise.’

But at the meeting the way the council had handled the matter in the past was heavily criticised.

Cllr Andrew Scarborough was scathing about the authority and said although the council did not have a legal duty to stand by previous incorrect advice it had given to Whites Nurseries it had a ‘moral duty’.

He said: “Over a long time Wellingborough council was asleep at the wheel. For 15 years the council has not been doing its job.

He added: “It is very clear the applicants have acted in good faith They sought advice and were told ‘don’t worry you are fine’. I think the failures by this council are massive.”

Director of planning Julie Thomas, who said she thought the lawful exemption certificate should be refused ‘because there were too many anomalies’ admitted that the authority had been found wanting.

She said: “I can say that things have been lax in the past and they no longer are.”

Ms Thomas said at the meeting if the committee did decide not to grant the certificate the authority would not carry out enforcement action.

Lawful development certificates are usually dealt with by officers under delegated powers but the matter had been ‘called in’ for the planning committee to decide on after a request by Earls Barton councillor Robert Gough.

Cllr Tim Maguire said the issue was ‘a can of worms’. He recommended the committee should follow the advice of the officer and refuse the lawful consent.

His proposal was seconded by Cllr Paul Bell but in the end five councillors voted to approve the lawful development certificate. Four councillors voted against.

The current planning application can be viewed here. It will be decided upon in the coming months.