A CONTROVERSIAL planning application which looked set to be rejected by councillors could now go ahead after changes were agreed.

Claudia Wilesmith, who put forward a retrospective planning application for ‘Steel Barn’ off Red Hill Lane in Worcester’s historic Middle Battenhall Farm, could have been forced to tear down some of the work by Worcester City Council after councillors narrowly rejected the plans last month but the plan now looks to have been salvaged.

The application asked for permission to carry out a number of changes including putting up wooden fencing, building a car park and storage unit, extending the home’s curtilage past the authorised boundary – all of which was not in the approved application and had already been carried out – and get permission to install solar panels.

Discussions between the city council and the applicants have led to an agreement to bring the height of the fence down to one metre.

Middle Battenhall Farm Action Group (MBFAG), which had criticised the plan saying the work should never have been carried out in the first place, had since agreed to remove its objection.

Worcester City Council’s planning committee went against the recommendation of its own planning officers to approve the plan, refusing it by six votes to five, forcing the application to be brought back to a meeting this Thursday (June 11) for a final decision.

The plan faced a lot of criticism by councillors when the planning committee last met in early May.

Councillor Jenny Barnes accused the applicant of “playing fast and loose” and the submission of retrospective applications was “abusing the system.”

“I think it’s wrong,” she said. “It ought to be put back to the plans that they have got.

“They took a gamble and they have lost. In my opinion, they shouldn’t have been able to get this far and it should have been nipped in the bud when they started to develop incorrectly.”

The applicant said the parking area had not been raised as was suggested and the fencing was allowed because it was under two metres and was needed for security.

The extended curtilage was going to be used as paddock as more than 400 trees had been planted.

The council's planning committee meets virtually from 1.30pm on Thursday. The meeting will be livestreamed via the council's website.

Cllr Steve Mackay, who represents the city’s St Peter’s ward, said councillors were essentially being asked to approve the original ideas for the site – a plan that was eventually altered, deemed appropriate and later approved by the council in 2018 – because it was so similar.

Cllr Mackay said it was “seriously concerning” that original plans had not been followed and that developers could instead build whatever they saw as reasonable and apply for permission in the future.

Cllr Alan Amos said former councillor Roger Knight had raised concerns about the work more than 18 months ago and Cllr Amos said the “consistent” lack of enforcement by the council had allowed developer to get away with it. “No enforcement action was taken at any time,” he said.

“The developers were allowed to do exactly what they wanted and when they have strung enforcement along for a year-and-a-half and they have done what they wanted, they have finished their work, then they submit a planning application which is down for approval.”

Cllr Amos said there was no risk in carrying out work and then submitting a retrospective planning application because the council would just allow it anyway.

Cllr Mike Johnson said the husband of applicant Claudia Wilesmith, who had submitted the original approved application, was a land development manager and knew what he was doing.

Work to convert the former agricultural building began in summer 2018 but planning permission was violated several times, the group said, forcing former ward councillor Roger Knight to ask for enforcement.

Cllr Andy Roberts said retrospective applications were allowing people to “take a punt” and was putting the planning committee in the “horrible position” of either approving the plans or forcing them to be ripped down.

The original land around the barn was included in the original planning application, which was approved by council officers in 2018, and set out an official boundary as well as restricting all permitted development rights including any extensions, outbuildings or alterations.

The council investigated and found the land around the conversion had been extended past what was approved and fencing put up beyond what was classed as the curtilage. A storage unit had also been built.