Freya the “mane” attraction as planners back endangered horse breed plea

Date: Friday 18th January 2019
Diane and Syd Steadman (right) outside Penrith Town Hall with Shire horse Freya and supporters.
Diane and Syd Steadman (right) outside Penrith Town Hall with Shire horse Freya and supporters.

A SHIRE horse named Freya greeted those arriving at Penrith Town Hall on Thursday morning as a Culgaith couple appealed to councillors to help them continue their work to preserve the endangered breed by allowing them to build a new house in the village.

Diane and Syd Steadman want to build a single-storey dwelling, designed to look like an agricultural building, on land next to their stables in the village. They say they need to downsize from their existing home nearby, as well as free up cash to continue to breed Shires.

While planning officers said the development was out of character with the existing linear pattern of development in the village, and the couple’s personal circumstances could not be taken into account, councillors were swayed by the argument that they would not be able to continue their work if permission was not granted.

Councillors added that land allocated in the new local plan for housing in Culgaith extended further beyond the linear pattern than the couple’s proposed house would.

Mrs Steadman told a meeting of Eden’s planning committee that she did not believe Culgaith was any longer a village of linear development.

“The proposed house is of an environmentally sustainable design, constructed in kit form by Eden Insulation, Appleby, and erected in three days, using integrated reusable energy technology to heat it,” she said.

“Culgaith, a key hub, is crying out for bungalows and this is self-build housing allowing local people to meet their own housing needs. Limiting development in villages to small-scale rounding off or infill stifles opportunities for self-build.

“Our application is not about development. As pensioners, we can no longer afford to live in our home and breed the Shire horses we’ve owned for 35 years. We wish to sell it and build a modest, single-storey house, tucked behind our stables. The money raised would build us a warm home and allow the keeping of Shires until our dotage.

“There are no objections, save for the planning officer. We are backed by our parish council and our district councillor.”

The council also received 79 letters in support of the application, including messages from Shire horse enthusiasts from around the world.

Mrs Steadman said: “I see no difference between this and the approved house in open countryside between Crackenthorpe and Bolton because the applicants wanted to breed miniature ponies there.

“Shire horses are rarer than giant pandas. Only 240 UK foals were registered in 2018. Of the colts included in that figure, many will have already been gelded and the Rare Breeds Survival Trust has warned we could lose them within 10 years.

“Extinction means forever. It would be so simple and financially more sensible if we sold everything and retired. But if we did, who would take up the cudgel on the breed’s behalf?”

Freya, the horse paraded outside the town hall, is due to foal next month. Mrs Steadman said she hoped that would not be their last Shire and appealed to councillors: “Each and every one of you has an awesome responsibility today. Here is your chance to do a David Attenborough and help preserve a vital piece of living history — the war horse, the black horse, the Shire horse.”

Ward councillor Rob Orchard spoke in favour of the plan and said this particular home should be given special consideration as it was not just a case of “someone looking to make money from the land they own”. He said the couple were running a “vital conservation service”.

Mike Eyles (Lib Dem, Penrith) proposed that planning officers be given delegated powers to approve the application, subject to the agreement of appropriate planning conditions, and this was seconded by Valerie Kendall (Con, Kirkby Stephen).

William Patterson (Ind, Warcop) pointed out that the development land allocated for Culgaith in the local plan itself differed from the village’s original linear layout, while Ian Chambers (Con, Eamont) said the local plan could not cover every eventuality and that this case was “the exception”.

John Lynch (Con, Penrith) said he could not support the motion, as the couple already had a house close by. However, it was approved at the vote.

Speaking to the Herald after the meeting, Mrs Steadman said: “We are over the moon and so grateful to those councillors who believed that preserving a dying breed overrides planning issues. Now we can get on with breeding more Shires.”