Farmer 'lied about animal feed factory'

By Julie Bartram A FARMER lied to keep running an unauthorised animal feed factory, a public inquiry heard last week.

Richard Bathie, director of Leafield Foods, which operates from Whinstone Farm in East Ardsley, admitting lying to Leeds City Council because they were asking questions about activities at the Blind Lane site.

The council served Whinstone Farm with an enforcement notice last July which would have forced production at the farm to stop, had owner John North not appealed the decision.

The three-day public inquiry to decide the fate of the factory began last Tuesday in Morley Town Hall.

Until last month Mr Bathie and Mr North maintained the site was not running as a profit-making industrial business and that he was only producing feed for his own animals.

But on April 11, solicitor George Wright, acting for Mr North, sent a letter to the council's legal team admitting the factory was not just used to produce feed for Mr North's own stock, but also had an industrial use – as the council suspected – and was manufacturing feed to be sold on.

The letter argued the site had this mixed use since 1997 when the first building was put on the site and therefore, under the four-year rule, no action could be taken by the council to remove the actual buildings, despite them being considered inappropriate development of green belt land.

The business had been running prior to this from Hill Top Farm, also owned by Mr North, and the appeal was also on the grounds that it was too late for the council to take action against the actual use of the buildings.

The firm expanded in 2001 when the building was extended to more than double its original size and extra machinery was installed.

The council criticised Mr North for changing his argument at "the eleventh hour".

Principal planning compliance officer with Leeds City Council Graeme Mitchell said he believed the business side of the operation had not actually begun until 2001 when the building was expanded.

"I would question the credibility of the appellant. Based on figures I have, I would argue the appellant couldn't have produced enough feed for his own animals, let alone have enough to sell on. Things just don't stack up.

"It would appear that when environmental health officers were investigating activities at Whinstone Farm, the opposite view was being put forward by the appellant, in that only feed for the appellant's own cattle was being produced and the commercial activities were very much in the experimental stage," said Mr Mitchell.

Mr Bathie was able to produce VAT records to prove the business had been running from at least 1995. He claimed production from Whinstone Farm began in 1997 when machinery was moved there from Hill Top.

Despite this Mr Bathie admitted he misled the council on numerous occasions about sales from the farm.

When cross-examined he admitted he had lied "to get the council off my back," and said he was "confused" by the wording of the council's questions. "I was aware these lies could result in criminal action against me", Mr Bathie said.

Solicitor for the council Tom Grahan said: "You have proven you are prepared to tell lies in order to keep this process going. That doesn't give much weight to what you are saying today under oath."

Concerned neighbours of Whinstone Farm packed the inquiry.

Susan Merewether, who lives in Woodhouse Lane, off Blind Lane, said: "The wagons don't even stop, they don't even look back, they just run you off the road. There's been umpteen accidents.

"Most important to me and parents is the safety of children. When we moved here nine years ago it was a rural lane, but not any more."

Neighbour Philip Stephenson said he appreciated not all of the traffic on Woodhouse Lane was created by Leafield Foods, but was concerned there could be a serious accident.

Coun Lisa Mulherin (Lab, Ardsley and Robin Hood) added: "I have to raise concerns about Mr North undermining planning rules in the area and the disregard he has for the planning process. It's very undermining to see Mr North get away with it.

"Some residents have withdrawn complaints from the council over the last two years because they have felt intimidated and have been frightened by fear of reprisal from Mr North."

The future of the factory will be decided by inspector Clive Whitehouse in about five weeks.