Moat Farm was owned by George Hands, a scrap yard dealer. He had a running battle with Stratford District Council (SDC) over lack of appropriate planning permission.
As a condition for Hands to get planning permission to develop the land on the west side of Roman Row, the cars and the scrap yard were cleared.
Hands then sold the land on to the Pettifers, who then built houses on the west side of Roman Row.
Moat Farm was put up for auction. Andy and Sally Birtwell purchased Moat Farm.
The Birtwells received planning permission for residential use and began building a new house.
The Birtwells moved to Moat Farm.
The Birtwells moved into the newly built Holycombe House and began offering therapies and psychotherapy services plus other classes but without planning permission for these commercial activities.
First residential courses began and camping was made available to those on residential courses. Independent camping also became available on a small scale. Various structures were built on the Campsite including showers, WCs and a camping kitchen. All without planning permission.
Hands tried to sell the cleared Moat Farm but potential buyers were put off by the planning history.
Noisy weddings and other large outdoor events began taking place at Holycombe House and on the Campsite. These included drumming, chanting, singing etc, which could be heard across the village. Vehicles were parked around the village causing difficulties to residents. SDC opened an Enforcement File following noise complaints from neighbours.
A retrospective planning application for Holycombe House and Campsite was submitted.
Planning permission was granted by the Planning Committee, voting 6-5 in favour (on the chairman’s casting vote).
The planning permission was quashed following High Court proceedings for judicial review. Multiple reasons were put forward for the challenge but the reasons agreed by SDC were:
SDC had not properly assessed the environmental impact of the application as it had failed to carry out a screening opinion; and
The case officer had misdirected the Council members on the policy protecting Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in that he found “exceptional circumstances” existed which would justify the planning consent being granted. This was “irrational” because it would allow the Birtwells to benefit from their breaches of planning control. It was also said that the case officer had “failed to take reasonable steps to acquaint himself with the relevant evidence” and that overall the advice of the case officer on the applicant’s compliance with planning policy was “fundamentally flawed”.
The Birtwells applied for two Lawful Development Certificates in respect of Holycombe House and the Campsite on the basis that they had been carrying on commercial activity there, although without planning permission, for many years.
After objections from the Herrtages that the applications were confused because of the lack of clarity as to what was being claimed, these applications remain unresolved.
Further application for retrospective planning consent by the Birtwells in relation to Holycombe House (but not the Campsite).
Planning permission granted for Holycombe House Holistic Retreat.
Planning permission quashed following High Court proceedings for judicial review. The reason agreed by SDC was inadequate environmental screening. The applications for Holycombe House and the Campsite should have been considered together as one project requiring such screening.
SDC agreed to consider the 2015 planning application (15/0205/FUL) in respect of the activities in the House. A further new application for the Campsite was submitted (16/04039/FUL).
2017 Jan - to date
Further to the pre-Enforcement Notice, SDC served an Enforcement Notice (LINK). Although the Birtwells have been operating Holycombe House and the Campsite without the appropriate planning permission for a number of years, after a set period of time it is possible to apply for a Lawful Development Certificate from the Council which effectively allows the activity to continue lawfully.
The significance of the service of an Enforcement Notice is that commercial use after this Enforcement Notice does not count for the purposes of obtaining planning permission through a Lawful Development Certificate.
SDC wanted the use of the site to be determined by planning permission, so that controls could be applied through conditions to protect the impact on the local area.
In the Enforcement Notice, SDC stated that the activities carried out were in breach of several of the policies set out in SDC's Core Strategy, which is designed to protect and enhance the historic environment of the district. The Core Strategy also contains policies to maintain Whichford and Ascott as a tranquil area and avoid visual harm.
The Birtwells have appealed the Enforcement Notice and requested a Public Inquiry. They also called a supporters meeting in The Norman Knight. Glen James explained the proposed compromise and the Birtwells declared that they would sign the Covenants giving effect to the compromise.
Parish Council meeting agreed to defer any decision to object to or support the planning applications to give time for the Covenants to be signed.
Parish Council agreed to support two planning applications “subject to Covenants being entered into”.
Another five reasons to oppose the planning permission were raised but because the SDC agreed the position they did not need to be argued in Court.
Glen James arranged for mediation talks between the Herrtages and the Birtwells. It was agreed that, in principle, both sides would enter into Covenants to maintain the current activities on the site.
SDC warned the Birtwells that it was intending to serve an Enforcement Notice by serving a pre-Enforcement Notice.
Following an application by the Birtwells, the Secretary of State confirmed that Holycombe House and Campsite was not required to have environmental screening opinion.