New twist in ‘Cold Comfort Farm’ saga as educational centre bid dismissed

Tuesday 10th May 2022 7:00 am
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VILLAGERS who successfully campaigned against a wildlife trust’s bid to convert two rundown nature reserve barns into a holiday let have had their alternative educational centre scheme kicked into touch by council planners.

The long saga over Tretawdy Farm in Llangrove took another twist when the applicants, headed by Dr Miriam Craddock, failed to supply ecology and parking information requested some 16 months ago.

Nineteen acres of farmland was bequeathed to Herefordshire Wildlife Trust by elderly widow Eileen Cook in 2016, after she had taken her daughter and son-in-law to court, evicted them from the farmhouse and disinherited them, in a case compared to comic novel ’Cold Comfort Farm’.

But villagers then opposed the trust’s plan to open a ‘family’ holiday let to fund conservation work, claiming it would attract ‘stag dos and hen parties’ to the tranquil rural village, which boasts one pub and a milk vending shed outside the village hall.

County councillors agreed with them and rejected the holiday let scheme, although planning officers had recommended approval, calling it “well-designed and for modest holiday use”.

Now the planners have written to Dr Craddock saying they are disposing of her educational centre application as “you have failed to provide the additional information requested and you have not lodged an appeal with the Secretary of State against the council’s failure to determine the application”.

Given the original backing of planning officers, HWT could have had a strong case if they had challenged the holiday let refusal, but are now too late to appeal, although they can submit a fresh application.

Mrs Cook left the farmland to be used as a nature reserve when she died aged 98 six years ago.

But the trust’s subsequent barn conversion bid sparked a storm of protest and a petition, leading to its rejection in December 2020.

In the meantime, residents who had raised the spectre of riotous ’stag dos and hen parties’ put forward their counter application to turn the barns into an educational centre.

The county council’s ecology officer objected to the scheme, though, citing a lack of information about the potential effect on wildlife and fauna of allowing large school groups and other parties onto the reserve.

Dr Craddock was asked to supply further information, but the council now say she has failed to do so.

Late owner Mrs Cook made headlines at the age of 92 in 2010, when she won a bitter court battle to evict her then 60-year-old daughter Pauline and son-on-law Wyndham Thomas, 76, in a case that drew comparisons with Stella Gibbons’ classic 1932 novel ‘Cold Comfort Farm’.

The Court of Appeal heard that the widow and the couple lived in opposite ends of the farmhouse, and hadn’t talked to each other for eight years, with the widow claiming she had been forced to live in one room of the house and had been “through hell”.

Judges - who heard that relations had originally broken down 20 years earlier when Mrs Cook’s daughter married Mr Thomas - ordered the eviction of the couple, ruling that they had no right to live there and must pay damages and costs.

Her only child, who was brought up on the farm, was disinherited and the land left to the trust.

It was revealed in court that Mrs Cook had let the couple live in a caravan on the farm after they wed, but they had moved into the farmhouse when it was damaged in a storm in 2001.

The couple claimed Mrs Cook, who moved to the farm in 1959, said they could live there and had promised to leave them the property when she died.

But the judges ruled there was no evidence of that, and they had no right to live at the farmhouse having already been served with a notice to quit.

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