FATE OF ECO-HOUSE TO BE DECIDED AT PUBLIC INQUIRY

Date: Friday 16th May 2008

A PUBLIC inquiry will determine whether an eco-friendly house at Mallerstang should be demolished after Eden planners voted not to retain it.

The long-running saga over whether Upper Eden businessman Adam Hoyle should be allowed to keep two-storey Carr House reached Penrith Town Hall on Thursday.

Members of Eden Council’s planning applications committee debated whether the house, which is at an advanced stage of construction, should be retained and used as affordable housing. But after hearing from officers that it was unauthorised and located in open countryside where there was no need for such a building, the committee refused the request of Mr. Hoyle.

He claims the house is built on the site of a previous dwelling, but the matter will now be the subject of a public inquiry, which has been scheduled for 2nd September.

Planning officer Mona Kent said that in 1991 a structure on that particular piece of land was “no more than a shell”, although it was apparent that work was due to take place. By December, 2004, work had started in earnest but when quizzed by council officers, Mr. Hoyle stated the building would be used only for storage.

It transpired that Mr. Hoyle, who runs a recycling business in Kirkby Stephen, had lived in the house for more than four years. As a result, he applied for a certificate of lawful use to continue occupation but this was rejected by planners who decided that enforcement action should be taken and the house demolished.

With Mr. Hoyle being unsuccessful this week in his bid to retain the house, his hopes now hinge on the public inquiry later this year. In its current state, Carr House is energy self-sufficient. It is said to have zero carbon impact through the provision of a small wind turbine, about 3m in height, and a hydro-electric power system which provides 750 kilowatts, both on site and enough to power lights, a fridge and low powered “home comforts”.

But Mrs. Kent said: “You only look at those things that Mr. Hoyle has done which are commendable if the development is acceptable.”

But it was not, instead being situated in open countryside where an “exceptional need” for such a building had to be demonstrated. “This is clearly not a development which complies with policies in the (Cumbria County Council) structure plan,” said Mrs. Kent. “In terms of affordability it is clearly a development in the countryside.”

Planning consultant Tom Woof, who acts as agent for Mr. Hoyle, was refused permission to speak at Thursday’s meeting by committee chairman Mrs. Ella Langan (Ind., Appleby).

This concerned Henry Sawrey-Cookson (Ind., Kirkby Thore), who was keen to know more about the application and found it “very odd” that Mr. Woof was not permitted to speak. Referring to the Human Rights Act, Mr. Sawrey-Cookson demanded to know why that was.

However, legal services manager Simon Young said there was no requirement under human rights legislation for people to address planning committees and said that, in fact, the common practice was not to allow them. “Human rights would allow fairness. Where we allow an objector to speak the applicant will respond to that,” he said.

Councillors were divided on the application. Mr. Sawrey-Cookson felt Carr House should be made an exception as it was situated in the Mallerstang Valley where properties were scattered.

Mrs. Glenys Lumley (Ind., Con., Kirkby Stephen) said she had been “harangued” by local people about the matter and there was huge support for Mr. Hoyle.

She asked when the former house on the site had stopped being so, to which Mrs. Kent replied that it had been abandoned in the 1930s or 1940s. “It ceases to become a site for a house when it is abandoned,” said Mrs. Kent. She added that when Mr. Hoyle had acquired the land the property was simply “a pile of stones”.

Roy Fisher (Ind., Greystoke) was pleased he had heard the comments of officers, which left little doubt in his mind that Mr. Hoyle’s application should be turned down. “Clearly he has disregarded any advice given to him by Eden District Council. We have got to go with our planning officers’ recommendation to refuse planning permission. We have no other option,” said Mr. Fisher.

John Thompson (Con., Penrith) agreed. “Our rules and regulations have not been adhered to. They have been flouted numerous times,” he said. “We on the planning applications committee listen sympathetically to everybody’s views, for and against. I am disappointed that the applicant has not adhered to our enforcement action.”

Malcolm Smith (Ind., Brough), deputising for absent committee member Harold Threlkeld (Ind., Eamont), had some sympathy with Mr. Hoyle. “My problem is that we have not heard the full story. I am disappointed that we didn’t hear from Mr. Woof. That would have helped me or anybody else that was standing in,” said Mr. Smith, who felt the problem stemmed from a “grey area” in the policy.

Mike Davidson (Ind., Penrith) said a lot of people had got themselves into “a mess” over the matter, including Mr. Hoyle, who had shown a “total disregard for anything at all”.

“There is one thing that has been straight and that has been our officers. They have stuck steadfast to policy,” he said. Mr. Davidson believed councillors were “damned” whichever way they voted.

John Lynch (Con., Penrith) felt in this particular case “the law was an ass”, while Michael Holliday (Ind., Langwathby) said councillors were all reluctant to see such houses knocked down. But he added: “We have made exceptions to rules sometimes. Sometimes there are grey areas but I don’t consider this a grey area at all. It is a house in open countryside built without permission.”

A motion that planners be minded to approve retention of the house was defeated7-4, and councillors then voted 6-4 in favour of the officers’ recommendation to demolish it.