Despite recommendations for refusals, Devon’s double Brit award-winning Ben Howard’s plans to create a “communal farm”, public football pitch, skate bowl, play area and a workshop for hire in the South Hams have been given the go ahead.

Planning officers had recommended that the bid for the change of use, renovation and extension of existing redundant farm buildings at The Yard in Bantham, near Kingsbridge, be refused - despite 358 of the 360 comments left on the application being in support of the scheme.

But South Hams District Council’s development management committee, when they met on Wednesday afternoon, voted overwhelmingly to support the plans for three acres of derelict land that Mr Howard owns, saying that the public benefits of the application outweighed the harm it would cause.

Cllr Tom Holway, who proposed approve, said that he didn’t think the officers had any choice but to recommend refusal because of the policies in the Local Plan, but that this would be a fantastic facility, adding: “It will allow these parishes to capitilise on the community spirit that we have found in the past few months, and contribute to the health and wellbeing of the residents.”

Mr Howard, who was born in Bantham and grew up in Totnes, had received 358 letters of support for the application on the site next to Osbourne Farm.

The plans state the vision is to create multi-purpose community facility including co-working hub with surfboard shaping workshop and ancillary cafe; replacement of existing equine sand school area with new five-a-side 4G football pitch; construction of new skate bowl and children’s adventure play facilities.

It also includes the creation of communal farm and proposed substantial landscape enhancement including construction of wildlife pond, planting of community orchard/tree nursery and wildflower meadow, associated landscape and ecological enhancement measures together with the upgrade and expansion of the existing car parking.

The communal farm will be for people to grow vegetables and cut flowers with a “dream to be off-grid by 2030”.

South West Farmer:

The plans for the communal farm

Mark Evans, the agent for the applications, said that to allay some of the fears, it had been agreed to delete the proposed floodlights for the football pitch and car park from the scheme.

He added: “The need to promote positive health and wellbeing for local people has never been more important. This local facility will provide clear help in connecting local communities as well as bringing investment to the area.

“I would argue with nearly 400 letters of support, there is unprecedented demand for this local school and recreation facility, and you can on balance support the application. It will enhances health and wellbeing, supports a strong and healthy and vibrant local community, and there will be substantial landscape enhancement proposed and a net biodiversity gain.

“This is a clear chance to support Devon’s sustainable recovery from covid-19. It will provide unique health and wellbeing opportunities for young people in the South Hams.”

One of the reasons given for recommending refusal was that it would lead additional trips by the car, but Mr Evans said: “Any increase in traffic should be put in context as if this is not supported, the same people will have to drive further afield, often past the site, to the ‘more sustainable sites’. This traffic movement is already taking place, and we will mitigate the negative impact of any traffic.

“This is a unique and much needed investment that will massive health and wellbeing benefits for the community, and the planning balance is tipped in favour of supporting this.”

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Recommending refusal, the planning officers said that the site is located in an unsustainable location in the open countryside away from settlements, would not conserve and enhance the special landscape qualities of the AONB, does not avoid incongruous development and additional trips by the car, is likely to generate an increase in pedestrian traffic on a highway lacking adequate footway, and would generate additional noise and be harmful to the residential amenities in their reasons for refusal.

When he put forward the application, Mr Howard had said he had been inspired by small-scale farming projects in Cornwall and Ireland and that the truth of today’s modern working world in the countryside setting was that many young professionals work from home in isolation, to the detriment of community and also of creativity.

He added: “I think there is a great opportunity to create spaces where the interaction of ideas and the crossover of recreation and work can benefit everyone. If we can run a small scale business that provides those opportunities in a safe place then it will be a great success and there seems to be a great demand for the activities we are proposing.”