Community farm battles for its future as it risks £20k fine

Mark Byford and Sue Smith who run Field of Dreams in Thurston have launched a campaign to garner support for the farm

Mark Byford and Sue Smith who run Field of Dreams in Thurston have launched a campaign to garner support for the farm as it faces planning enforcement action - Credit: Field of Dreams

A farm says it has support from nearly 2,500 people as it fights for its future in a planning row which could see it landed with a £20,000 fine.

Field of Dreams in Thurston, near Bury St Edmunds, was launched six years ago with a community ethos.

However, its founder says it is "100%" at risk of closure as a result of the planning dispute over a new driveway, polytunnels, a mobile home and containers.

The 12-acre site hosts volunteers, including from the Prince's Trust and Duke of Edinburgh's Award schemes, has open days for families and has helped provide people with food during the coronavirus pandemic - at the start taking 400 orders in a day through its website.

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Children learn about growing food and animal care at the farm - Credit: Field of Dreams

Mark Byford, who runs Field of Dreams with his partner Sue Smith, says they potentially face a £20,000 fine if they don't make the changes to the site requested by Mid Suffolk District Council, which is the planning authority.

The council says the main breaches of planning control are: the creation of a new driveway from Beyton Road; stationing of a portable building for sales and storage of farm produce; creation of a yard area and the siting of a mobile home; erection of containers and polytunnels.

Produce growing in a polytunnel at the farm

Produce growing in a polytunnel at the farm - Credit: Field of Dreams

Mr Byford said they are trying to address issues with the driveway and had already removed the beds from the caravan.

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However, he is refusing to remove polytunnels and containers, which he says are necessary for the operation of the farm.

Two of the polytunnels on the site are permitted.

He said nearly 2,500 people had signed petitions to save the farm and more than £2,500 had been raised, which could be used to pay for a potential legal battle.

This is the driveway the council has requested be removed.

This is the driveway the council has requested be removed. It leads to the animal enclosure, the shop, car park, and polytunnels - Credit: Field of Dreams

Mr Byford said: "We might be here and be custodians, but the volunteers that come on site from Duke of Edinburgh and Prince's Trust and the schools and everyone who uses it will lose it as a service.

"We have lots and lots of volunteers. The whole place has been built by volunteers."

He added: "It would be a sad day for the community if we had to go home. We are not ready to go home."

The shop stocks produce from the farm as well as other local producers and Field of Dreams, which is a limited company, employs seven staff.

Field of Dreams farm in Thurston was launched in 2015

Field of Dreams farm in Thurston was launched in 2015 - Credit: Gregg Brown

Mid Suffolk District Council said it had received numerous complaints over the years from 16 separate complainants.

A council spokesperson said: “Our council recognises the importance of Mid Suffolk’s rich agricultural heritage and firmly supports farming, and other businesses, in the district.

"However, for the safety and amenity of all of our residents, unauthorised development must be investigated and we have received a number of complaints from the local community about the site.

“Anyone found to be in breach of planning control is given a reasonable period of time to correct the situation and our preference is always to work to find a resolution before any formal enforcement action is taken.

“Prosecution is only ever used as a last resort by our planning team, who have been in correspondence with the owners of Field of Dreams to explore how best to move forward, while we continue to support them in carrying out the remedial action required to comply with planning legislation.”

Wendy Turner, a Green district councillor for Thurston, added: “Mr Byford has been given many chances to conform to planning policy and has chosen not to, therefore like everyone else he has to suffer the consequences of not complying.  

"He has been given ample opportunity by the enforcement team to put things right.

"No-one wants to see a successful business fail but it is also not fair on other businesses in the area that do conform to regulations.

"I do hope that he now works with the council to put things right in order for him to continue developing his business.”

Mr Byford said they had until April 30 to comply with the changes requested by the council or face prosecution. 

He had tried to appeal against enforcement action, but lost.

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