A “Big Brother” attitude over a planning issue affecting a farm shop in Middleton is forcing the business to close this Saturday – putting three local people out of work, the owner claims.
Stephen Hutton said he has no option but to shut Crowns Farm and Bakery Shop, behind the Crown pub and restaurant in Lynn Road, because he cannot afford the estimated cost of up to £20,000 to construct a footpath to the site to meet access requirements imposed by the borough and county councils on his change of use permission for the premises.
“They are playing Big Brother and just not being reasonable,” he said. “I haven’t got the resources to fight them and the only alternative is to close it.”
North West Norfolk MP Henry Bellingham opened the farm shop and bakery in May last year, and yesterday he said: “It will be very unfortunate if that shop does close because this is a successful business and one the village needs. It has substantial community support.”
Mr Hutton’s wife, Tracy, has been running the shop, where all the fruit and vegetables sold are produced locally. The one full-time and two part-time workers being made redundant live in Middleton.
Mr Hutton said: “Ninety per cent of the shop’s trade is from people who walk here from the village. Only two to three cars a day drive to the business.
“We started serving teas and coffees in the shop because the OAPs like to come here and have a cuppa and a slice of cake.”
He said the planners did not want vehicles turning off the A47 to reach the shop through the pub’s car park so they asked for the access off School Road to be moved ten metres further south and a public footpath constructed up to the bus shelter on the A47 Lynn Road.
This would involve getting a stopping off order, as the land required belonged to the local authority, and ensuring the work was to the required standard, he added.
Mr Hutton said the shop was run as a separate business from the adjacent gastro pub, which has undergone a major transformation.
A West Norfolk Council spokesman said Mr Hutton was given planning permission to change the use of the outbuilding, a former toilet block and store, to a farm shop in January 2010, with county council highways conditions attached.
She said this was to ensure safe access to the site was available, and providing the new footpath was one of those conditions.
“The applicant had the right to appeal those conditions at the time when permission was granted, but did not. We met with him subsequently and explained the conditions and what he would need to do to comply with them,” she said.
“We have tried to assist him and feel it’s quite sad that he has chosen to close the business, but we have to enforce the conditions if the county council require them as we are the enforcing authority.”
She said Mr Hutton could submit a further application to vary the planning conditions attached to his consent, although this would obviously involve further cost.
A Norfolk County Council spokesman said the authority was always concerned to ensure that new businesses and enterprises did not create a new hazard on the roads.
“We are certainly not in the business of trying to stifle new enterprises. On the contrary, we will always try to find solutions that will meet those safety requirements and allow these new businesses to flourish,” he said.
Mr Hutton had accepted the conditions when making the conversion, he pointed out, adding: “We are sorry if he does not feel the safety improvements can be made to allow the business to continue.”
n Have the county and borough council planning officers adopted too harsh an attitude over access to this farm shop and bakery, when local jobs and a popular village service are at stake?
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