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'MOTOCROSS' ON FARMLAND PLANNING ROW

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Hart DC has suffered costly defeat in its High Court battle against farmers who they insist are using their land as...
Hart DC has suffered costly defeat in its High Court battle against farmers who they insist are using their land as a venue for motorcycle racing.

The council is facing a legal costs bill of at least£10,000 after judge, Mr Justice Owen, refused to issue an injunction against members of the Benford family or to order them to remove 'mounds of earth' from their land at Down Farm, Alton Road, Odiham.

The dispute between the council and the Benford's goes back to October 2003, since when the council has issued numerous noise abatement and enforcement notices in relation to the site, alleging nuisance and breach of planning control.

The council went to the High Court seeking an injunction preventing use of the land for 'motorcycle activities' on more than the automatically permitted 14 days per year. They also asked the judge to order removal of the earthen mounds, saying they needed planning permission.

Despite the council's insistence that the site is being used for motorcycle 'racing', the judge said Robert Benford 'emphatically denies' that the land is being used either for racing, practicing for racing or speed trials.

Dismissing the council's claim, Mr Justice Owen said no evidence that Hart had come up with served to 'undermine' Mr Benford's testimony.

The judge added that motorcycling activities on the land are in any event 'seasonal' - taking place for between 14 and 28 days between October and the end of February - and earth mounds and obstacles on the site are levelled annually to make way for a barley crop.

Mr Benford argued the earth mounds are 'temporary structures' - they are only on the land for five or six months each year - and the judge accepted that the 'enviromental impact' of their presence on the land is 'minimal'.

Mr Benford and his family are also in the process of appealing to a government planning inspector against the council enforcement notice which demanded removal of the mounds and have been advised they stand 'a very good prospect' of success.

The judge also observed that the activities on the land have continued on a seasonal basis since October 2003 but enforcement action was not taken by the council until February 2005 and an injuncton was not sought until December last year.

'That does not demonstrate a compelling sense of urgency on the part of the council,' the judge observed.

'No other grounds have been advanced for the immediate removal of the mounds. The alleged harm to the landscape from the mounds can be left to the judgement of the planning inspector', the judge added.

'Having carefully weighed the competing considerations, and whilst acknowledging that the defendants are in breach of an enforcement notice, I am not persuaded that in all the circumstances it would be just and proportionate to order the removal of the mounds at this stage,' Mr Justice Owen concluded.

The council was ordered to pay the legal costs of the case, estimated by lawyers outside court at more than£10,000.

Saira Sheikh, for the council, earlier told the judge Hart was concerned that 'the activities on site give rise through noise and general disturbance to conditions prejudicial to the quiet enjoyment of those living in the vicinity and those using the vicinity for informal recreation.'

However, Peter Wadsley, for Robert, Stella and Stephen Benford and their firm, GK Benford & Co, said the events held at the farm were in no way 'competitions' or 'races'.

He explained: 'What takes place on the land is recreational riding and training of young riders. It is not racing at it is not trials of speed, nor is it practising for these events.

'The impact of such activities is very much less.'

STRAND NEWS SERVICE

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