Charity's care farm approved after planning row
A CARE farm to teach disabled and disadvantaged people agricultural skills has been given permission for new buildings, after a lengthy planning battle.
Charity Empowering Futures' plans for a polytunnel and teaching building on land next to Bury Hill, between Downend and Winterbourne, were unanimously approved by a South Gloucestershire Council committee.
The plans for the site at Moorend Farm were supported by 105 people. But they were opposed by 17 residents, Winterbourne Parish Council, and a local councillor, who told the meeting the development would “blight the local landscape”.
Afterwards Empowering Futures founder Maria Needs said she felt “broken” by opposition to the plans, which she claimed included a “hate campaign” by a handful of people.
She was also angry and upset about the imposition of planning conditions she said were too expensive for the charity to afford.
Mrs Needs said it had taken five years for the organisation to find and buy land for the care farm.
The planning application had been awaiting a decision since February last year.
Objectors raised concerns about the effect of the 10m-long polytunnel and 4m-high building at the care farm on the Green Belt, traffic, people’s enjoyment of the countryside, and their views of the Iron Age hill fort at Bury Hill, north of the site (pictured below).
The council imposed a condition requiring the charity to develop, submit and abide by a council-approved “programme of archaeological investigation and recording for the site” because of the neighbouring fort.
Mrs Needs said that would mean paying an archaeologist £200 to £500 a day to oversee the building works and sift through the soil as the foundations for the building were laid.
She said: “That’s just impossible.
“I’m really angry. They are penalising disabled people.”
Mrs Needs said she was unsure how the charity would overcome the planning requirement, but she was determined to ensure the care farm would continue at the Hambrook site.
Planning committee members heard heartfelt pleas from the charity and its supporters at their meeting on January 6.
Lorna Carter-Stevens, from New Beginnings, a community centre for adults with learning disabilities, said she was upset by “prejudice” towards people with learning disabilities, who are among those who visit the care farm.
She said: "During lockdown, many of them suffered greatly from mental health issues and they’ve been isolated for long periods of time.
"They need this activity more than ever. We should be welcoming them with open arms and love."
Gemma Mugridge (pictured above), from Empowering Futures, said some residents mistakenly thought the care farm was a petting zoo or city farm, and would attract “large coachloads of people”, which she said was "an absurd idea".
She added that the care farm provided a tailored programme of activities for small groups of people, on a referral and appointment basis, with participants learning social and communication skills, as well as farming and traditional craft techniques, and getting therapeutic benefits from working with animals and nature.
Ms Mugridge said: “All we want to do is help those in the local community that need us the most – those excluded from other settings due to their needs and disabilities – and to give them opportunities that they’ve never had before."
Staple Hill & Mangotsfield ward councillor Ian Boulton, who knows Empowering Futures from their work in Page Park, said “any community should feel very lucky to have them in their neighbourhood”.
But Winterbourne councillor Trevor Jones, whose ward includes the site, told the planning committee: “This development along with others will blight the local landscape.
“We have concerns about cumulative damage to both the hill fort site as a whole and the rest of the local environment.”
Ms Mugridge asked for the removal of two planning conditions to control planting and protect the tree line that creates a visual barrier between the care farm and the historic hill fort, but a council officer said they were both “standard” and “necessary”.
The charity planted 1,000 saplings at the farm last year and plans to plant another 1,000 this year, the meeting heard.
Historic England raised concerns about the impact of the care farm on the hill fort, which is classified as a “scheduled ancient monument”.
But council officers felt the benefits of the proposal outweighed the harms to both the heritage asset and the Green Belt and recommended the application for approval.
Councillors agreed and voted unanimously to support it, calling the care farm “amazing” and “fantastic”.
By Amanda Cameron, Local Democracy Reporting Service
Main picture: Kelly Rogers of Empowering Futures at Moorend Farm. Picture: Paul Gillis/Bristol Post