A former Tory councillor wants to lift a planning restriction which knocks an estimated £300,000 off the value of his farmhouse because he is no longer working in agriculture.
Graham Brown – a planning consultant who resigned from East Devon District Council (EDDC) last year after being caught on camera boasting to reporters posing as overseas investors – is attempting to lift a condition which restricts the use of Ware Farm to those employed in agriculture.
The Conservative claims he has not been using the house, in Ottery St Mary, to conduct agriculture from – a condition of the original planning permission in 2000 – despite allegedly claiming more than €200,000 in European farming subsidies.
He is seeking a “certificate of lawfulness” for the property because he claims not farming the land means he has been breaching a planning condition for more than a decade.
Ware Farm was recently advertised online for £1.55million on the property website Rightmove but withdrawn by the estate agents.
The application will be determined by East Devon District Council but Ottery Town Council will discuss the matter tonight (Monday)
Councillor Roger Giles, a member of Ottery Town Council for more 20 years, said he had never come across anything like it before.
“The planning condition is a tie which means the person living in the house must spend all or most of their time working in agriculture,” he added.
“If this was lifted it would allow him – at a stroke – to sell the farm without a tie and make around £300,000 more from the sale.
“If somebody fails to comply with a planning condition they would usually be punished but in this case he could be substantially rewarded – it seems wholly wrong.”
In March last year, former Feniton and Buckerell councillor Mr Brown resigned his seat after he was caught in a sting operation boasting that he could secure planning permission as part of his professional work as a planning consultant.
At the time, he defended the controversial comments, claiming he was speaking to reporters in his role as a planning consultant, not as a councillor.
But the council’s Conservative leader Paul Diviani said Mr Brown had “brought himself, the party and council into disrepute with his comments”.
As well as being suspended from the East Devon Conservative Party, he was removed as the council’s member champion for business and tourism.
Having bought Ware Farm, which sits beside an area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB), some years prior and converting several outhouses into properties and selling them, in 2000 Mr Brown applied to build a new farm house to live in.
But East Devon District Council only granted permission if the home was to be occupied by a person “solely or mainly” working in agriculture.
In documents attached to the certificate of lawfulness application, Mr Brown seeks to prove that
he did not in fact use the house for agricultural business and therefore is in breach of the condition he was originally granted approval.
Under Local Government legislation, if an applicant can prove that they have been living in breach of the condition for more than 10 years, the breach can be used to support an application for permission for continued noncompliance.
And where there has been a breach of planning control, no enforcement action may be taken after the end of 10 years beginning with the date of the breach.
The accompanying report to the application states that “in the years immediately following the erection of the consented farmhouse, Mr Brown’s farming activities diminished as his other activities and commercial interests took precedence”.
But in a fresh twist, campaigners from the East Devon Alliance (EDA) have published details of the €222,922 apparrently paid out to Mr Brown in farm subsidies between 2000 and 2009.
In addition, they say Mr Brown’s own figures for farm income submitted with his application reveal he earned over £850,000 from his land between 2004 and 2013.
Spokesman Paul Arnott said: “If Mr Brown’s application is successful, the protection of the AONB from speculative development will be further eroded.
This is an important test case and must be ultimately decided in public by councillors in EDDC’s Development Management Committee not by an officer’s decision behind closed doors.”