Businessman ordered to demolish barn at Winterbourne Down
A BUSINESSMAN has been given three months to demolish a barn he built in the green belt at Winterbourne Down.
Christmas tree grower Michael Seward lost his appeal against the enforcement action after the Planning Inspectorate ruled that he imports most of the Christmas trees he sells from the site in Down Road, Winterbourne Down – something Mr Seward denies.
He was granted planning permission for the building in 2010 but South Gloucestershire Council said he had been using it for retail rather than agriculture.
Mr Seward said he had spent £50,000 on the building and fighting the case and the ruling would “devastate” the site.
The White Christmas Tree Farm, above, stands by the Kendleshire crossroads and its inflatable Santa is a well-known sight around Christmas. The legal ruling would come into force just as the season is getting underway.
Mr Seward said: "It’s all happened so fast. I’ve got until December 8 to take it down.
“It’s like buying a £50,000 car and just crushing it.
“This will devastate the business there. I will keep fighting it.”
Mr Seward denied that the barn was used for retail purposes and said he built it last summer to store farming equipment. He said Christmas trees dry out if they are kept inside, so he would not have put them in there, and the enforcement action was launched last September – before he started selling them.
A spokesperson for the council said: “Although planning permission had been granted for an agricultural building on the land in 2010, that permission has now lapsed and the use of the building is not considered to be agricultural, due to it being used for retail purposes.
“The land owner appealed, but the appointed planning inspector agreed that it was not agricultural and upheld the enforcement notice we issued, meaning it must be removed.
“Protecting the green belt is an important function of planning control, and a warehouse being used for retail purposes in this location is not permitted under planning rules.”
The council said that while growing and selling Christmas trees would be classed as an agricultural use, the business imports most of the trees that are sold from suppliers elsewhere in the country – so the primary use of the site is retail, not agriculture.
Mr Seward planted his first crop of Christmas trees in 2009 after he bought the site. He now grows about 5,000 but said an irrigation system could treble that figure.
In 2010 he secured planning permission for a barn smaller than the one he built, and to change the access to the site.
He said because he had changed the access, the permission had not lapsed, so he is hoping to secure a certificate of lawfulness for the barn before the December deadline to pull it down.
Planning inspector Graham Self found Mr Seward’s business at Winterbourne Down was still “reliant to a significant degree on outsourced trees”.
He said in his ruling: “The construction of the building was inappropriate development in the green belt, it harms the openness of the green belt and there are no very special circumstances or other reasons why an exception should be made to normal green belt policy.
“The uncertainty resulting from the enforcement action and appeal has already affected Mr Seward’s enterprise at the site and will inevitably have further effects, though not preventing Christmas trees being grown on the site.
“There is no good reason to extend the compliance period to allow time for a planning application to be made for a different building, especially since an extension on that basis could cause problems if a decision on an application were to lead to a future appeal.”
The building has to be removed by December 8.
Mr Seward said he did not sell Christmas trees from the site last year but customers will again be able to pick their own from early December.
His business also grows trees in Frenchay and sells them in Bishopston.
By Stephen Sumner, Local Democracy Reporting Service