The owner of a Lancashire farm school for children, which is located near a gas pipeline and in a green belt zone, is celebrating after gaining planning permission to use an agricultural building and land for alternative educational activities.

Georgie Mitchell, of Nest Farm School near Brierfield, has been granted retrospective planning permission by Pendle Borough Council to officially change the use of the building and land at Greenhead Lane, which she rents from a landlord.

She had been running the farm school business over the past few years without any planning permission and her change-of-use planning application had been recommended for refusal by borough planning officers. The reasons for recommending refusal included the potential hazard of a gas explosion, the loss of agriculture activities on green belt land, and the lack of public transport or walking access to the site.

Utility firm Cadent Gas had previously objected to the retrospective application, saying it has the ‘potential to impact gas aparatus’. The Health & Safety Executive had also previously objected.

The application was looked at by councillors on another borough council committee covering the Nelson and Brierfield area earlier this autumn. Georgie and some supporters spoke at that meeting. But the application was then sent to the more-senior Policy & Resources Committee for a decision,

Dozens of farm school supporters attended the Policy & Resources meeting on Thursday (November 25) including an 11-year-old girl from Burnley.

Georgie Mitchell at Nest Farm School
Georgie Mitchell at Nest Farm School

Georgie Mitchell, a former Great Britain snowboarder, said: “I had no idea how the councillors’ decision would go or what I’d have done if the decision had gone against me. I just tried to stay positive and did a lot of preparation work before the committee meeting. I looked at all sorts of things around gas law, land law, common law, farming and planning.

“I also received an email from the gas board and the Health & Safety Executive, confirming everything was safe. They had no concerns.

“Obviously there is a gas pipe at the site but it is not ready to explode at any point. The agricultural building was put up in-keeping with the gas rules,. They explained that it was a safe and well-maintained site. That was the main issue in the planning application.

“During the Pendle Borough Council committee meeting, a number of councillors spoke on my behalf, saying the animals, gardens and stock at the site are suitable for a greenfield location. Some disagreed with that. Other speakers highlighted the children and parents who benefit from the school farm experience. They said forcing it to stop would be absurd and would have impacted on families who really value it.

“The farm school is doing a lot of good for children generally and for those in areas of deprivation, such as in Nelson and Brierfield. It’s something good for local people to access. Charities and children’s adoption organisations also support it. There’s nothing else like it in the area,” said Georgie.

She said one of the speakers at the council meeting was a girl called Josie Taylor, who is a pupil at St Mary Magdalene RC School in Burnley.

Georgie emphasised: “Josie is only 11 years old and she spoke for the full three minutes of allocated time. She got a huge round of applause and a standing ovation from the councillors. She was superb. The chairman of the committee congratulated her. It was incredible.

“It was a big relief to get planning permission. After the councillors’ vote, there was a big cheer from the public gallery. I got a standing ovation from the borough councillors. It was really nice. I want to thank everyone who supported the farm school. The public gallery was packed and people made the effort to attend. I’m so grateful.

Nest Farm School
Nest Farm School

“I also got all the planning conditions I need and I can operate for 12 months through the year. It also means I can apply for grants to develop the farm school, which is registered as a not-for-profit community interest company. ”

To show her special thanks to Josie, Georgie has invited all the pupils from St Mary Magdalene RC to Nest Farm School in the future.

Georgie has some Christmas events planned through December and will then have a couple of quiet months in January and February before opening fully in the spring.

She is also working on ideas to develop other farm schools as franchises across the UK and to further raise awareness of farm school ideas and ethos to children, parents and schools. The farm school highlights the health and well-being benefits for children through outdoor, practical activities with animals and gardens.

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