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East Wooodhay Parish Council performs u-turn on support of Sungrove Farm development

Reversal comes in light of critical AONB report

Jonathan Ashby

Jonathan Ashby

jonathan.ashby@newburynews.co.uk

Contact:

01635 886637

East Woodhay community group call on council to reverse farm decision

EAST Woodhay Parish Council has rescinded its support for the proposed Sungrove Farm development after the scheme was criticised by the North Wessex Downs Area of Natural Beauty (AONB).

On January 6, the AONB posted its response to the application – put forward by Emily von Opel to build a commercial garden centre-style farm in East End – arguing the scheme would be detrimental to the area’s natural beauty.

This response came five weeks after the parish council had marginally voted in favour of the scheme.

As a result of the AONB’s input, parish councillors convened in their first-ever digital meeting on Monday to reassess their support of the application.

This time, parish councillors voted overwhelmingly against the scheme – with six members now opposing the scheme and just one in favour.

Councillors cited the scheme’s incompatibility with the village’s neighbourhood plan and the weight of the AONB’s opinion relating to planning applications.

Councillor Barry Lambert said: “I believe the AONB gives new weight and significance to the already strong body of opposition to the scheme.

“The parish council in the past has always relied heavily on the views of the AONB when considering applications within our parish and I see no reason why we should not support their views in this instance too.

“Once implemented, this scheme would change the hamlet forever.”

Susan Cooper agreed, stating: “One of my main concerns is that we’ve been working hard on the neighbourhood plan for a while.

“The AONB is mentioned an awful lot for many good reasons, and we’ll find it difficult to make points on the AONB when we’ve voted against it on something like Sungrove Farm – which is going to be very detrimental to East End if it goes ahead.”

John Murdoch reaffirmed his support of the scheme, arguing it would help keep the community alive.

He said: “I believe we need small developments in the countryside of this type just to keep our rural communities alive and healthy.

“Whilst I value the AONB endeavours to protect our countryside, I believe that the concerns they’ve raised are not justified in this particular instance.

“The development is not large and it’s certainly far more attractive than the buildings currently on the site.

“I think the facility will serve local needs with fresh farm produce, provide employment and be an additional nice meeting place for visitors.”

Despite the council’s vote against the scheme, two councillors expressed their wish that a compromise could be reached if the development was amended to make less of an ecological impact.

Mark Rand, who changed his vote from for to against, said: “I think there is a conflict across this one.

“The AONB is incredibly important in our area – it’s one of the reasons I moved to the area.

“I also think it’s very important that we have a community that supports enterprises that are appropriately positioned in that area and I do believe that somewhere along the line that there is a compromise waiting to be made.”

Similarly, Paul Hurst said: “I’m changing my mind to say that I’m objecting to the scheme, but really only with the AONB point primarily around dark skies and the bakery.

“If that was compromised on then I would support the application.”

Mrs von Opel seeks to redevelop the site, which lies opposite her Malverleys home.

The application will see the demolition of a 1980s farmhouse and construction of a new building, which will house a farm shop, gift shop, bakery, plant nursery, café and education space.

A dilapidated barn would also be demolished and replaced by a much smaller agricultural dwelling.

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