Wildlife concerns over villages’ ‘Cold Comfort Farm’ centre plan

Wednesday 11th May 2022 4:00 pm
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A counter plan put forward to turn redundant barns into an educational centre at a village nature reserve has run into opposition on wildlife protection grounds.

The saga over Tretawdy Farm in Langrove goes back more than a decade to when the elderly widow owner won a court order to evict her daughter and son-in-law from the farmhouse, before leaving 19 acres of farmland to Herefordshire Wildlife Trust when she died in 2016 aged 98.

The trust then applied to convert the barns into a luxury family holiday let to raise funds for conservation work, which was backed by Herefordshire Council planning officers, but prompted a storm of protest from villagers.

Councillors supported the objections in spite of the advice from their officers, turning down the plan last December.

In the meantime, residents who led the campaign to stop the holiday let - which raised the spectre of riotous ’stag dos and hen parties’ destroying the tranquil setting - made a counter application to turn the barns into an educational centre.

But the council’s ecology officer has objected to the proposal because no information has been supplied about the potential effect on wildlife and fauna of allowing large school groups and other parties onto the reserve.

Late owner Eileen Cook made headlines at the age of 92 in 2010, when she won a bitter court battle to evict her then 60-year-old daughter Pauline and son-on-law Wyndham Thomas, 76, in a case that drew comparisons with Stella Gibbons’ classic 1932 novel ‘Cold Comfort Farm’.

The Court of Appeal heard that the widow and the couple lived in opposite ends of the farmhouse, and hadn’t talked to each other for eight years, with the pensioner claiming she had been forced to live in one room of the house and had been “through hell”.

Judges - who heard that relations had originally broken down 20 years earlier when Mrs Cook’s daughter married Mr Thomas - ordered the eviction of the couple, ruling that they had no right to live there and must pay damages and costs.

Her only child, who was brought up on the farm, was disinherited and the farm left to the trust.

It was revealed in court that Mrs Cook had let the couple live in a caravan on the farm after they wed, but they had moved into the farmhouse when it was damaged in a storm in 2001.

The couple claimed Mrs Cook, who moved to the farm in 1959, said they could live there and had promised to leave them the property when she died.

But the judges ruled there was no evidence of that, and they had no right to live at the farmhouse having already been served with a notice to quit.

Herefordshire Council planning officers described the holiday let bid as “well-designed and for modest holiday use”.

But councillors turned it down after villagers raised a petition opposing the trust’s scheme.

Ward councillor Elissa Swinglehurst (Con), who is a member of the trust, opposed the scheme, saying: “We look to the trust to protect and enhance the natural wildlife, the flora and fauna of the county.”

But the counter plan has run into opposition for failing to show that it does that either.

Objecting to the outline proposal, county ecology officer James Bissett has told the council’s planning department: “No information has been supplied in relation to wider and potential presence and use of the site and existing buildings by protected species – including Horseshoe and other bat species.”

The applicants should supply a fully detailed bat survey and “a fully detailed foul and surface water drainage scheme, including all relevant testing details and results”, he says.

“The ecology report should also consider all other relevant species and biodiversity and habitats that could be impacted by the development and any associated part of the development.”

The trust has previously said that the narrow access road through the village to the nature reserve isn’t suitable for coaches and minibuses ferrying large numbers of schoolchildren.

HWT hasn’t made any comment to the council’s planning department about the counter plan and did not respond to the Beacon when asked to comment previously.

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