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Hilgay couple 'forced to choose between home and dog breeding business'

By David Hannant, Local Democracy Reporter

A dog breeding couple have been left to choose between their business and the dream home they built together in Norfolk.

Dawn and Steve Holland of Blackberry Pups have been breeding dogs together from their home in Hilgay for more than a decade – providing beloved pets for hundreds of families in the process.

Puppies from the Blackberry Pups business in Hilgay (8771933)
Puppies from the Blackberry Pups business in Hilgay (8771933)
Dawn and Steve Holland pictured at their Hilgay home with TV presenter Phil Spencer (8807168)
Dawn and Steve Holland pictured at their Hilgay home with TV presenter Phil Spencer (8807168)

During this time, they have also spent more than £250,000 converting Blackberry Barn into their dream home – having began life on the 3.5 acre site living in caravans.

However, West Norfolk Council action against the pair left them having to either sacrifice the business they established together or the home they invested so much in.

Following noise complaints from a neighbour, the council ordered the pair to stop breeding on site and reduce the number of dogs “to a level incidental to the enjoyment of the dwelling house”. Currently they live with 18 dogs, ranging from 18-months to 10 years old, however, a West Norfolk Council spokesman was unable to identify just what this level is.

The spokesman said: “This is determined by a number of factors, which include size and location of the property and is usually around what would normally be expected. So irrespective of whether they are pets, or commercial puppies, if the number is higher than would reasonably be expected for a property, a planning application would be required.”

Mrs and Mr Holland lodged an appeal against the action with the Planning Inspectorate, but this has fallen on deaf ears.

Faced with losing their only source of income, the pair have instead sold the home they built together and hope a new location will salvage their business.

Mrs Holland, 50, said: “We have been living here for nearly 14 years and started breeding 11 years ago and never had any complaints to begin with. We are right on the edge of the village, have large, open space around us and our nearest neighbour is 18 metres away.

“We have done everything in our power to fight against the enforcement and continue breeding here, but we just can’t.”

The pair mainly breed cavapoos and cockapoos at Blackberry Barn on Ely Road near Downham Market, where they live with their two teenaged children.

And they say they have received mixed messages from the council, after being awarded a licence for breeding in November – the very same month the original enforcement notice was issued by a separate department.

“The licence cost us £700 and says we are meeting all the council’s expectations for breeding, but at the same time, their planning department is telling us we can’t do it,” Mrs Holland said. “It just doesn’t make sense to me.

“Instead we have had to sell the house – our dream home – as if we were to stay here we would have no income.”

After Ken McEntee dismissed their appeal, the couple were given until early June to cease trading as a commercial breeder and cut their dog numbers.

However, after selling their home they instead intend to move to a new location and continue the business.

Mrs Holland added: “At one stage we had 35 dogs which over the past few years we have reduced to 17, which itself was heart-rending.

“I am also dreading moving as dogs like routine and it is so important they are comfortable if you breed them.”

A spokesman for West Norfolk Council said that different legislation applies to the licensing and planning issues and that the licensing team was only able to consider animal welfare matters, while the planning team has to consider impact on local amenities and other factors.

They said: “This is no different to legislation for pubs for example – you can have a planning permission for a pub, but you also need a licence to run it. Both elements need to be in place.”

The spokesman added that the enforcement action came about after reports of an excessive number of dogs on the property – “beyond what would normally be expected in a private dwelling”.

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