OTTERY St Mary Town Council is writing to East Devon District Council to express concerns about the integrity of a former councillor’s application to lift a planning restriction which could knock an estimated £300,000 off the value of his farmhouse.
Members of the town council’s planning committee met to discuss the application by former Feniton and Buckerell ward member Graham Brown and highlighted several inconsistencies and contradictions in Mr Brown’s evidence.
As previously reported by the Echo, Mr Brown – a planning consultant who resigned from the district council last year after being caught on camera boasting to undercover reporters that he could secure planning permission for a fee – wants to lift a condition which restricts the use of Ware Farm to those employed in agriculture.
He claims he has not been using the house to conduct agriculture from – a condition of the original planning permission in 2000.
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Ware Farm was recently advertised online for £1.55million on the property website Rightmove but withdrawn by the estate agents.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 lifting of the restriction could mean the value of the house could increase by around a third, approximately £300,000.
However at last night’s meeting, committee chairman Councillor Ian Holmes said that in an application for a replacement driveway in 2005, Mr Brown stated that he had 325 cattle and hundreds of ewes and lambs.
And he said, in 2008, in an application for a horse menage, he had 160 acres, 70 at Ware Farm, and around 80 beef cattle and around 200 lams which wintered at the farm.
On farmsubsidy.org it shows that from 2006 – 2009 Mr Brown received almost 89,000 Euros from the European Union in farm subsidies but at the meeting, a member of the East Devon Alliance claimed that over a decade this figure was in the region of 220,000 Euros.
Addressing councillors, campaign group member Tony Green, said: “We think the application is seriously misleading – he says his farming activities quickly diminished after 2002/3 but in a planning application in 2005 his agent said it was necessary to have a new entrance because the farm had expanded and movements were increasing. This is not a farm in decline.
“And between 2004 – 2013 figures from his farming activities were around £850,000 – the East Devon Alliance can’t understand how you can claim that farming activities are insignificant when such suns of money are being brought in by farming activities.
“An why in the 2012/13 council year in a declaration of interest does he declare to be a farmer and represented the National Farming Union as chair of what was then the East Devon Business Forum?
“How on one hand can you claim that you’re not farming while on the other you hold this representative position?”
However Cllr George Hansford asserted that it is not necessary to be a farmer to be a member of the National Farmers Union or receive farming subsidies from the EU.
Councillor Jessica Bailey offered to compile a report that will now be submitted to East Devon District Council for consideration.
She said. “I’m concerned about the contradictory evidence that seems to have come forward, and the actual evidence itself.”
Cllr Holmes, said: “It’s obvious we’re concerned at the evidence.”
Cllr Giles, added: “What’s happened here is totally outrageous – people should comply with planning conditions and when they don’t there should be enforcement action, but in this case, if the applicant is successful, he’ll benefit.”
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.
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.
Mr Brown said he didn’t want to make an official comment at this time.