Woolley Valley campaign group begins High Court fight over agricultural buildings
A campaign group has begun a High Court fight to get council chiefs to take a tougher line over agricultural buildings in a hamlet near Bath.
A legal challenge brought by the Save Woolley Valley Action Group (SWVAG) got off to a belated start at the High Court in London yesterday, after judge Mrs Justice Lang ordered the large and complex bundles of court documents to be organised.
Almost four hours after the intended start, counsel Richard Harwood told the judge that the case raised the “simple question” of whether Bath and North East Somerset Council made a lawful decision over land at Woolley Farm in Woolley.
The land – in the Cotswold Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and subject to extra planning rules thanks to what is known as an Article 4 direction – had been sold by broadcaster Jonathan Dimbleby to Golden Valley Paddocks in 2005.
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SWVAG is seeking a ruling quashing the council’s decisions to allow Golden Valley to keep ten 3.5- metre high chicken sheds, enough to house 10,000 chickens, as well as a stock pond on the site.
Mr Harwood said that the authority had been wrong to decide that the chicken sheds did not amount to development, were not subject to planning control and did not require an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) to be carried out.
He said: “That decision was unlawful on three bases.”
Firstly, he said: “The council was required to construe the concept of development in accordance with the EIA Directive. Quite simply, it refused to do so.”
He claimed B&NES failed to consider the breadth of the concept of “building operations“, and that it took an “unlawful approach to domestic law”.
In relation to the stock pond, he argued that planners failed to consider the cumulative environmental effects of the various farm operations.
The group says that it is not against the land being farmed “appropriately”, as it says it has been for centuries, and actively supports sustainable grazing of the land in Woolley Valley by sheep and cattle.
However, the group, which claims some local farmers among its supporters, fears that intensive poultry farming will destroy ancient meadows.
On SWVAG’s website, Mr Dimbleby, who owned the land from 1993 to 2005, says: “I am particularly dismayed by the way in which the field nearest the village has been excavated and partially filled with what looks like hundreds of tons of spoil. This was the most ecologically valuable field on the holding with natural streams and it was farmed with great care to avoid poaching the land and to maintain its particular character.”
The trial is scheduled to last three days, after which the judge is expected to reserve her decision in order to give it in writing.