Crunch time for family facing eviction

A family who have ploughed their heart, soul and around �500,000 into creating a dream family home in the country should find out on Thursday whether they will be allowed to stay in their lovingly converted barn - and if so for how long.

A family who have ploughed their heart, soul and around �500,000 into creating a dream family home in the country should find out today Thursday whether they will be allowed to stay in their lovingly converted barn - and if so for how long.

A range of fates await Steve and Lorraine Kinsey, who have lived for a year and a half in the grade II listed converted former potato store on the edge of Happisburgh, with their two youngest children Jack and Kurt.

As reported previously, the worst case scenario is they will be made homeless from White's Farm Barn because the planning permission which currently exists on the property says it should be used as a holiday home rather than as a main residence.

The Kinseys' attempts to change the permission on the barn have already won backing from North Norfolk councillors at a previous council meeting, many people in Happisburgh including lifeboat station bosses where Mr Kinsey is a volunteer and the headteacher of the village primary school which Kurt attends.

However council officers have repeatedly warned of the precedent which would be set if permission was granted, which they fear will lead to an opening of the floodgates of people wanting to change countryside barns into permanent homes, which they feel is unsustainable.

At today's planning meeting, where a final decision is likely, officers will recommend to committee members that they let the Kinseys stay in the barn for 18 months but refuse the change of permission on the barn. Meanwhile a key policy governing the wider issue of barn conversions in the countryside, which in itself has courted controversy and was recently described by one councillor as 'out of step with the rest of Norfolk', should be subject to an 'early review', as suggested last month by councillors.

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In a report to the meeting, planning officer Tracy Armitage says: 'The committee needs to take into account the precedent that a decision to approve this application could have in relation to numerous other buildings in the countryside which are subject to similar holiday occupancy conditions.

'Records suggest there are already approximately 600 rural buildings which are subject to some form of holiday occupancy condition.

'The potential loss of holiday accommodation could have a significant detrimental impact on tourism and local employment.'

At last month's east area development control meeting, the Kinseys were supported six to none by members. Thursday's meeting is a joint east and west area meeting, where there will be more councillors voting on what should happen.

Support has also come for the Kinseys' case from professional barn converters Clare and Michael McNamara.

The McNamaras, who have 30 years experience of converting barns around Norfolk, said the north Norfolk planning rule in question, known as Policy 29 and which deals with the 'reuse and adaptation of buildings in the countryside', had failed to keep pace with the rest of the county.

They were particularly critical of a policy which has allowed them to convert a set of barns at Wolterton Park near Aylsham, but only allowed some of them to be for full residential use, while others right next to them can only be for holiday let.

'If these barns were in West Norfolk, Broadland or Breckland, they would all have residential use,' said Mr McNamara.

'To think that the whole of Norfolk does not have the same policy is bizarre.'

And Mrs McNamara said: 'I think the whole policy is completely ludicrous, it turns Norfolk into a theme park with homes people can't live in on a full time basis.

'These conversions help create communities, but the policy seeks to prevent that happening.'

Paddy Seligman, who lives full time in one of the Wolterton barns converted by the McNamaras, said the policy incensed her and was 'discriminatory'.

'I am irritated by the attitude that people should be forced to live in villages and towns.

'I want to live in the countryside and am able to, but other people are being prevented from contributing to local communities such as ours because they are not able to live here permanently.

'We provide employment through cleaning, gardening and other work, so to say local employment is affected by full time homeowners is just wrong. If our house was a second home it would provide less employment, not more.'