Planning Application Update

Our planning application and all the associated paperwork can be seen on the Mid Suffolk District Council web site by going here, entering “wakelyns” into the search box and then selecting the first entry. Lots of documents, including surveys and plans, were involved along with a general description here.

We are extremely grateful for the interest which such a wide range of people have shown in our ideas and plans for Wakelyns. Over 100 people commented on the application to the Council.

We have also been happy to welcome everyone who wanted to see Wakelyns for themselves. That will continue after this application process is complete.

People commenting on the panning application have raised many factual points and questions.

We are happy to address them, including those which are not part of the issues involved in a planning application or planning permission; not least because there are many misunderstandings and myths about what we are doing and what is involved in this planning application.

We have done that by starting with two of the longer and more detailed submissions (which provide a helpful framework for the points which many other people have repeated).

Following that, rather than pick up each point in every submission (which would get very repetitive as many of the same points are made by different people), we have focussed on the new and additional points.  That way, all the points are covered, but only once.   To do it, we have looked at the documents in roughly the date order they arrived on the Council website.

April 2021


POINTS/QUESTIONS FROM THE RESPONSE FROM PAM AND DR J CASTRO:

“The case put forward lacks clarity and is implausible. This is not just a simple change of use issue. A new business is being proposed. Where is the business plan? Where is the risk analysis? Where is the management plan? The whole approach is incredibly superficial, amateur and lacks credibility.”

We have not submitted a business plan (or a linked “risk analysis” or “management plan”) because the Planning Permission process (and therefore the Planning Department) is not concerned with those matters and does not require that information.

Long before we applied for planning permission we submitted a planning ‘pre-app’ to the Planning Department. That allowed them to identify the particular reports and assessments which they required. They have since requested further information. We have commissioned reports and provided information entirely as requested and entirely as required by the general planning application process. That does not include any requirement for a business plan or anything similar.

But to give additional background (much of which is already on our website) in case it assists Castros and others: 

When Ann and Martin Wolfe established agroforestry at Wakelyns from 1994 they were not only pioneers (with no model to follow), but they were also setting it up as a purely research activity with no thought to making it commercial or financially sustainable.

The lessons learned from what they innovated have allowed other people to establish agroforestry, including elsewhere in Suffolk, in more commercial ways, and on a much larger scale. But we are now left at Wakelyns with an established, but small, agroforestry site which is simply not financially sustainable as it stands.

That did not matter to Ann and Martin because they brought in extra money by having researchers from the Organic Research Centre (ORC) based here (driving in and out daily, as it happens) and subsidising it with between £25,000 and £40,000 per year of their own money.

As it happens, we are now working with the ORC again[1], but not on the basis of them being located here as before so not bringing income.  And we are not in a position personally to continue the subsidy in the way that Ann and Martin Wolfe chose to do.

We believe the organic agroforestry should continue (as, seemingly does everyone else, though none suggest an alternative way of achieving that). But we need to make the organic agroforestry, and Wakelyns overall, financially sustainable.

Since Martin’s death in 2019, we have continued with farming in the alleys as commercially as was possible, using pretty much all the available land in the organic rotation cycle (other than the meadows) and selling the produce (wheat, lentils, squash etc) through Hodmedods (from near Halesworth). But (allowing for the costs of the two long-standing Wakelyns farm workers we continue to employ to do that work) that still loses towards £20,000 per year.

Last year, for the first time in Wakelyns’ history, we also tried to crop all the cherries, plums and apples on something approaching a commercial basis. We recruited young people to assist through advertising in the village shops in Metfield and Fressingfield and paid them the ‘living wage’ per hour. Our cherries were absolutely delicious local organic cherries, but the price the shops in (among other places) Southwold, Halesworth, Metfield and Fressingfield were able to pay us was considerably below the cost to us of picking and preparing them. We lost just under £2,000 on the cherry harvest alone last year.

To be clear though: that is not to say that organic agroforestry cannot in principle be commercially successful – others, learning from Wakelyns, are showing that it absolutely can be. But not at Wakelyns, because it is too small and was not set up that way.

As explained further below, the ideas we are then bringing forward to deal with that challenge came out of a diverse group of people gathered here in 2019. They included some of our closest neighbours, farmers, bakers and scientists. All were familiar with Wakelyns, many for over many years.

Establishing a bakery to use the produce from the farm, hosting courses and events, being able to accommodate people who come to those events, and also being able to accommodate people who work in the agroforestry, are all key and interlinked components of what we believe is required to make Wakelyns financially sustainable and so secure the future of the organic agroforestry which remains at its heart.

If Pam and Dr J Castro (or indeed anyone else) are (is) interested in discussing those matters, we would be pleased to do so.  But the planning of them is not a matter which concerns the planning application.

“*On the information provided it is impossible to confirm that the proposal is consistent with paragraph 83 of the NPPF.”

As explained above, we have provided all the information asked of us by the Planning Department.

“How is the site to be managed? It is not proposed to appoint an onsite operations manager. Inadequate management could lead to difficulties for people living in the locality. There is no plan as to how on-site emergencies will be managed. There would be issues here around Health and Safety.”

The Planning Permission process is not concerned with operational details of that kind. Outside the Planning Permission process though, we have, of course, consulted with and complied with the requirements of the applicable regulatory bodies.

For example, the Bakery has been designed and built in full discussion and compliance with the advice and requirements from the Council’s Building Regulation Team (who in turn consulted Suffolk Fire Service as they would for any such proposal); and the Council’s Environmental Health Department.

We will, of course, have in place the necessary arrangements to deal with health and safety and emergency matters. One advantage of having some of the people working at the farm also living here (in static caravans) is that we can and will engage them to assist with operational matters.  

“The application includes proposals to convert part of the barn into a bakery/kitchen. The bakery has been operational for over a year. Presumably, this is therefore a retrospective application for this element.”

The works to restore, repair and upgrade what was an old derelict building used to house pigs before Martin and Ann’s time into the bakery have taken place over the last few months in full discussion, as above, with the relevant Council departments. They were completed in March 2021.

Those repairs/upgrades to an existing (and previously derelict) farm building did not require planning permission.

The Bakery only became operational on 12 April 2021 (following the necessary notification to the Council’s Environmental Health Department 28 days previously). To that extent, as the documents make clear, the planning application is indeed retrospective, but that is something which came about because of the time involved in gathering the reports and other information required by the Planning Department for it to have a full understanding of those matters relevant to the Planning Application.

Had we chosen to operate the bakery in the form of a café, that would not have needed planning permission (as is the way for such farm building conversions).

The Instagram photos of Henrietta Inman at Wakelyns last summer are not any part of the Bakery or its operation.

“*The scale of the proposal is extremely large. Conversion of existing buildings, and 18 residential elements. Additionally, it is suggested that agricultural workers could tow in their own personal caravans. The sheer scale is not in harmony with the surrounding area. This is a greenfield site which will be littered with temporary housing. The exact number is unknown. Significant numbers of workers theoretically could tow in their own accommodation.”

The building conversion is in a very small part of one of our several large existing barns.

As for the static caravans, the Planning Permission process is concerned with principle of them, not who actually owns each caravan or who brings them on to the site (whether that is Wakelyns or the people who then occupy them).

As it happens, in our early discussion with officials from the Council’s Planning Department, they queried why we were even applying for permission at all to site caravans for workers connected to farming/forestry to live on site. That is because planning permission is not required at all for such caravans on any farm above 5 hectares in size (in any location on such a farm, and with no further constraints).

We did not want to go down that route (potentially scattering caravans across the whole farm in an unregulated way) and have, instead, applied for planning permission for static caravans to be located well away from any neighbours or the public highway. That process has then allowed the Planning Department to scrutinise our proposals including with the benefit of professional reports on all relevant matters, and to impose conditions on the caravans as it considers appropriate. For example, the Council’s Environmental Licensing Team have requested that the static caravans all be properly insulated – we are very happy to agree to that.

“*The 6 static caravans will not be attractive. The 12 bright yellow glamping pods  even less so. These will be visible from the Metfield Road and will appear completely incongruous. There has been no attempt to meld these pods into the natural environment. Certainly, such units are not sensitive to their surroundings  as required under Paragraph 83 of the NPPF”

The pods will be within the existing mature tree lines of our agroforestry system.

If the Planning Department has any concerns about any possible view of that area from the Metfield Road (nearly 500 metres away) then we would be happy not to site them in the most Easterly tree lines, thus avoiding all visibility; or the Planning Department could control the colour of any to be used in those last couple of tree lines.

The static caravans will all be surrounded by substantial and long-established hedges. If the Planning Department were concerned about 500m+ winter filtered views (there would be no spring-autumn views in any event because of the hedges), we could readily add in additional screening planting.

“*The proposal is to provide electricity to the glamping pods whilst at the same time have the ability move such pods around. This will have major practical installation problems. The glamping pods will not have running water or sanitary facilities. This could result in practical problems for residents if, on occasions, the units are sited some distance from the fixed toilet block.”

Electricity to the pods will be via a mixture of static connection points and cables. That is entirely straightforward to implement safely. We do not envisage any problems.

Pods have running hot and cold water for en-suite washing and cassette-style toilets.  The water infrastructure will be installed in an entirely conventional way for a farm. There will be no ‘practical problems’ of the kind feared.

“*The site is too far away from the sewerage in Fressingfield to link into this. It is stated that “foul drainage is to sewerage treatment works.” No information is given over the nature sewage treatment works. Neither the glamping pods nor the static caravans have sanitary facilities. It is proposed that the existing toilet block is utilised for the development. No indication is given as to what facilities are in the toilet block. A photograph is provided and, as an estimate, it appears that no more than 2 showers and two toilets could be accommodated in such a small building. Current usage of the toilet block will be small with only daily use. With 18 residential units and people attending courses it is quite conceivable that up to 50 people will be on site using the facilities. On 1 April 2021 the Environment Agency wrote “Where the proposed development involves the connection of foul drainage to an existing non-mains drainage system the applicant should ensure that it is in a good state of repair, regularly de-sludged and of sufficient capacity to deal with any potential increase in flow and loading which may occur as a result of the development”. Maintenance requirements laid down by the Environment Agency are strict, requiring that the sewage holding area be physically checked each month. If there is no on-site manager it is impossible to see how this can be achieved. The volume of the purified effluent which will likely be discharged to existing ditches has not been assessed in the flood risk calculations. There is no information provided as to how the capacity of the foul drainage will cope with at least a 5-fold increase the volume of foul sewage.”

As above, the pods all have entirely conventional en-suite cassette style toilets. We have two Klargester waste treatment plants on site, one newly installed only last year, the other only a few years’ old and in good condition, serviced every year. There is plenty of capacity. Each is fitted with an alarm which warns if there are power supply or other issues. Each is subject to an ongoing maintenance/desludging contract with Binders who regularly check all is well.

Static caravans will initially follow the same course, though it is possible that in the future we would upgrade their internal facilities and install an additional Klargester.

As above, we will have no difficulty with personnel to undertake the necessary supervision.

People attending courses will have use of the toilet within the education building.

“*Metfield Lane, the lane leading up to the entrance to the site, is a single-track road with few passing places and two right angled bends. Local farms use the lane for access using tractors. (It is too narrow to accommodate a combiner) The inadequacy of the access road cannot be overstated. (see attached photograph) No highway assessment is within the Application.”

The Highway Authority has not raised any concerns about the suitability or capacity of Metfield Lane. We have offered to add a passing place on Metfield Lane (if the Highway Authority will actually let us do so).

Likewise, any concerns they may have about vegetation/visibility on the corner of Metfield Lane, where the relevant land is all in our ownership, could all be easily addressed.

At the request of the Highway Authority, we have provided further information to them about the visibility at the point our access becomes Metfield Lane. If they have any concerns about that, then we could and would readily adjust that access to meet those concerns.

“Neighbour amenity is compromised as a number of houses front onto Metfield Lane. The increase in traffic could be considerable.”

The static caravans will be occupied by people who (if they could afford to live in the area at all) would otherwise be driving in and out daily, so they reduce traffic movements.

We expect almost all people staying in pods will be attending courses/events taking place in our existing education building or outdoors (and therefore independent of this planning application, so those movements would happen anyway). Some of the courses will be multi-day, so the facilities for people to stay on site will reduce the required movements in and out the site.

Those combined reductions will significantly mitigate if not cancel out any increase from people who stay in a pod but who would not be coming here anyway.

“*The intention is to increase commercial activity on site. Bread produced from the bakery and Veg Boxes are currently sold commercially. Not only will distribution of sold items increase, the amount of raw material coming to the site will increase in line with production. There will be the raw material for the bread and raw vegetables themselves. Not all of the vegetables within the commercial Veg box are grown on site. Metfield Lane is not designed to accommodate such an increase in activity.”

The raw materials for the bread are all grown on site (that is the whole rationale for the Bakery) with the exception of salt, which is not bulky.

Most of what is produced in the Bakery will be eaten by people on site, attending courses, working here, etc – that is core to the very rationale for the Bakery.

The volume of bread to be distributed off site, including in local village shops is small, likely necessitating no more than one vehicle movement a couple of times a week (some deliveries will be by bicycle).

The activities being undertaken by the RealVeg Community Supported Agriculture group are part of the wider farming on the site and not part of this planning application. The volume of externally sourced vegetables which they will bring here to supplement that grown here in the veg boxes is small and will generate very few trips over a year.

“*Parking for 10 cars is provided on site. This cannot be adequate for 18 residential units, a converted farm house for holiday lets, together with touring caravans. There is no analysis as to how much additional traffic will be generated from the site. People will be attending bakery courses, which may run currently with agroforestry practical courses. There are no local buses in the area therefore everyone will get to the site by private transport. There has been no thought as to where all of the cars are to park.”

As for traffic volumes, see above.

In terms of parking, the 10 spaces identified in the planning application take up only a small fraction of the existing hardstanding areas which would be available for parking within our farm and farmyard, as needed.

If the Planning Department requires additional capacity over and above what that provides either on a full time, or occasional overflow, basis, that could readily be provided without any difficulty and compromising any farming or biodiversity.

“*The surface water drainage strategy states that no additional drainage is proposed as the site is currently 100% permeable and will remain so. Roof run off is mentioned, but the run off from the 10 parking spaces is not. The gross inadequacy of the parking mentioned above may result in additional places having to be provided this will increase run off rates.”

Our parking and hardstanding areas have existing drainage into existing field drains which are regularly maintained and which have no capacity issues.

Because of the size of the area involved in this planning application, the Planning Department asked that we commission a professional drainage report to see if there might be any water issues. The report is on the Council website. It has not identified any drainage concerns.

“*What is the demand for agroforestry training? Since the sad passing of Prof Woolfe [sic], who locally is competent, known and appointed to undertake such training? Is there any collaborative work being under taken with academic institutions? If so, which?”

We are unclear the relevance of those matters to the planning application but are happy to assist nonetheless.

We have already had approaches from people (including locally-based) wishing to run (and very qualified to run) agroforestry and other farming-related courses and events. Their intended target audiences variously include young farmers and growers, local gardening groups and teachers in local schools. There is no shortage of expertise to teach on those courses, including locally.

The biodiversity arising from the agroforestry also provides an ideal opportunity for courses and events such as tree walks, bird walks, butterfly and insect events, willow weaving, and so on, led by local experts. We have already started running such events. Plainly, none of that needs planning permission. The people attending them eat food produced in our bakery (thus bringing it income and helping sustain the jobs), and some would wish to stay on site, particularly for multi-day events.

As it happens, the people living here and working in the farming and forestry (enabling us properly to harvest and use the fruit and nut crop from our agroforestry alleys for the first time) will all also be involved in providing courses/events. They include “The Woodland Haberdasher” part of whose activities include carving spoons, plates and other items from wood she cuts on the farm, and using other materials to make natural dyes and threads. Courses she has run elsewhere have been a particular favourite with local WI groups.

As above, we are working with the ORC and, when time permits, will be re-establishing other similar collaborations. We already have university students undertaking field work here, and many requests from others (such as from UEA) to come for internships or similar periods to learn from and help at Wakelyns.

“*Biodiversity and environmental impact are not addressed. No ecological report is submitted and the reports from Suffolk Wildlife and the RSPB are not within the bundle as stated. There will be light pollution, additional disturbance to the wildlife, especially as the pods are to be moved around the site. It is impossible to see how this proposal will enhance biodiversity. There will be a significant increase in on site human activity.”

As requested by the Planning Department, we commissioned an Ecological Appraisal to be conducted in accordance with the standard requirements for such assessments. The Council has also commissioned its own survey. Copies of both are on the Planning Department website.

Neither assessment has identified any ecological reason to oppose this planning application but have asked that pods and static caravans not be located by the old hedge in which the Turtle Doves nest.  We are of course happy to agree to that.

Had we gone down the route of using the ‘permitted development’ rights for agricultural workers’ caravans (rather than applying for planning permission) none of that would have needed to happen.

Meanwhile we are working closely with the farm advisory team from Suffolk Wildlife Trust who have undertaken their own bird and pond surveys; likewise the RSPB. We have made all that information available on our website throughout. Their surveys are available to download at: https://wakelyns.co.uk/environmental-surveys/

Without the additional income and staff time which will arise from our proposals here, we would not (financially and otherwise) be able to sustain the agroforestry which is key to the biodiversity benefits which they report and which they hope our wider activities here will bring about. As above, these proposals are inextricably linked to maintaining and enhancing the biodiversity of the site.

“*There is no information concerning the projected number of jobs this project will generate. The site is unsupervised. The agricultural workers appear to be itinerant there is just no overarching plan.”

In answer to question 18 on the planning application form (which is with the other documents on the Planning Department website) we specified 6 full time and 4 part time jobs making 8 full time equivalent. Those are people who will be engaged in agriculture/forestry and related activities. There is more information further below about the individuals involved.

“*The major concern is that there are numerous unsubstantiated statements made in the application. As there is no business model and it is impossible to assess whether the proposals are financially viable. There is a very high risk and probability that, if approved, the site could develop by default as a large, cheap caravan site without proper facilities or appropriate landscaping and be a blot on the rural setting.”

As explained above, the planning application/permission process is not concerned with, and does not require, business information of the kind mentioned there.

Changes of the kind feared there would need further planning permission.

Any planning permission related concerns which the Planning Department may have about our proposals can be dealt with by appropriate conditions on the planning permission.

“Having spent my working life assessing business cases this application does not work. Almost no supporting information, ill-conceived and detrimental to the local community. I would urge the LPA to refuse the Application.”

As above, the planning application is not seeking to set out (nor does it need to set out) a business case of the kind which Pam and Dr J Castro seem to have in mind because that is not part of the planning permission process. But if they (or indeed anyone else) would like to discuss those matters separately, we would be very pleased to do so.

“There is no provision for storage or collection of waste, which will increase significantly with the expansion of the business.”

We intend to maximise our composting, upcycling and recycling, and minimise our residual waste.

We are in discussion with the County Council’s waste department about our additional waste requirements but we do not expect they will be substantial.

We will, in any case, have no difficulty in accommodating storage within our existing farm/farmyard area and facilities.

“… there is concern as to the free flow and safety of traffic and pedestrians related to the increase, the lane is also used as a footpath. The proposed permissive paths around the site would increase the number of pedestrians using [Metfield] lane.”

Our proposals for possible permissive paths on Wakelyns (i.e. allowing local people to come and walk around and enjoy our land and see the agroforestry for themselves) are not any part of this application. They have been put forward by us as an entirely voluntary benefit to the local community. The ‘taster scheme’ we ran as a trial in 2020 was enjoyed by many local people.

However, if the Planning Department or Highways Department has any concerns about any incidental resulting pedestrian use of Metfield Lane, we would not proceed long term with (or modify as requested) the permissive paths proposal going forward.

As it happens, any future permissive paths opportunities at Wakelyns will need to be altered in scope in any event as, in response to the public paths taster, the owner of neighbouring Mill Mount has withdrawn permission for the bridge which previously allowed anyone coming from Metfield via the public right of way in Mill Mount to enter Wakelyns that way.

“The website also states that each pod will be provided with a fire bowl another potential hazard not mentioned in the application.”

The firebowls are small domestic firebowls made locally for us by James at Acorn Forge near Blyford.

Use of such firebowls by us or any ordinary householder (including in domestic garden) is commonplace and not part of the planning permission process.  The  firebowls would be 400 metres from the nearest neighbouring house. But, if the Planning Department had any relevant concerns we would of course act on them.


METFIELD PARISH COUNCIL ADDED:

“During the site visit Metfield Parish Council were informed that the mobile homes would provide semi-permanent accommodation for workers with a view to it becoming more permanent in the long term if required. They were described as subsidised accommodation for agricultural workers, but it was then suggested that the chefs from the bakery and one of those providing craft courses would be using them, which would indicate that the venture is bringing in specialists from outside, not providing employment for those living within a commutable distance.”

The premise of our bakery is that it is using the produce (including fruit, nuts, etc) grown here at Wakelyns which has been picked by the people who work in the bakery.

The woman providing craft courses who the Parish Councillors met (The Woodland Haberdasher as mentioned above) is using wood and other natural materials which she collects from our agroforestry system in the course of her forestry work for us.

As it happens, three of the four individuals which we discussed with the Councillors come from Suffolk. Each has been living with their parents, unable to afford to move out without the kind of opportunity and facility we are hoping to offer through this planning application. Even assuming, they could remain permanently living with parents while commuting to Wakelyns, them being accommodated here will save the car journeys – including on Metfield Lane – that would have involved. 

“A separate application for change of use of the farmhouse to be used as a holiday let (there will be no permanent resident) needs to be submitted.”

As part of the ordinary ‘pre-app’ dialogue with the Planning Department about all of our plans they identified that the consents required in relation to our proposals for the house were Listed Building Consent (for some works of improvement and restoration to the house) and building regulations approval for specified fire and other safety measures.

We applied for and obtained all of those and are implementing all the measures they required. No further planning (or other) consents are required.

As it happens, the use of the house that way is an essential component of the financial underpinning to sustain the overall Wakelyns endeavour.


THE DAUGHTERS AND SON[2] (THREE SEPARATE SUBMISSIONS TO THE COUNCIL) OF A RESIDENT OF METFIELD LANE ADDED

“There seems to be a lack of clarity and transparency in this application”

As above, we believe we have provided all information requested of us by the planning application process and Planning Department. There is more information on our website.

We have repeatedly offered (including in direct correspondence with everyone in Metfield Lane including 5 months before the application was submitted) to answer questions and provide more information.

Where people, including some of our nearest neighbours, have asked for any more information relevant to the planning application, we have willingly provided it. Indeed, on request we have also provided a lot of additional information which is not relevant to the application including to neighbours.

The leaflet which accompanied our permissive paths regime was advertised through Linda Norris’ Metfield Blog and the Six Sense newsletter which is widely circulated in the area. We know that a lot of people downloaded it from our website. It outlined our plans for Wakelyns and invited anyone interested in more information to get in touch. Metfield Lane is in Fressingfield. We wrote directly to Fressingfield Parish Council and to our District Councillor asking if any of them wanted to look at or discuss the draft planning application documents before they were submitted.

“Original ethos of Wakelyns. I do not believe that Wakelyns becoming a tourist destination fits with the original endeavour of Martin & Anne Woolf[ sic].”

Although the point is not related to the question of planning permission, we are happy to address it.

Before their deaths, all family members pressed Ann and Martin to guide us in what they would like us to do after their deaths. They very specifically and explicitly chose not to do so other than one request from Martin (who died second).

On his death bed, he asked us to hold a ‘symposium’ at which people concerned about Wakelyns could gather and discuss how best to take forward Wakelyns and his legacy. He gave us a list of about 20 people to invite.

In the end we invited all the 400+ people who had been invited to or come to his funeral (which included many people from Fressingfield and Metfield and neighbours from Metfield Lane), everyone in their address books (and therefore everyone they contacted in the area), neighbours and many others.

Over 50 people attended in October 2019 including close friends and family, neighbours from Metfield Lane, people from Fressingfield, Mendham and Metfield, people who had worked here, scientists, farmers, wildlife experts, organic growers, bakers and many others. The event was professionally facilitated for us to get the best of the day. We made scans of all the notes and other documents generated at that event available on our website and are here: https://wakelyns.co.uk/the-wakelyns-symposium/

What we are now doing is directly the things (other than the idea of a brewery and distillery) conceived at that event by the people best placed to express views on what Martin and Ann would have wanted.

At the bottom of this document we have cut and pasted in the consultation response from Josiah Meldrum, probably Martin Wolfe’s closest collaborator in the last decade of his life. His perspective is particularly relevant in understanding what would have pleased Ann and Martin.

The things which go beyond securing the future of the organic agroforestry (Martin’s core focus and which continues), would have brought great joy to Ann in particular.   

“… we were NOT fully consulted in the pre planning of this application”

As above, the authors of the objections in question all live a very long way from Wakelyns.

On 31 October 2020, we personally hand delivered the following letter to each of the houses on Metfield Lane including the authors’ mother’s house. We have put the passages which is particularly relevant to the planning application process in italics for ease.

The letter said this:

“Dear neighbour,

As you may know, following my mother Ann’s death in 2016 and father Martin’s death in 2019, my brother Toby and I inherited Wakelyns, at the end of Metfield Lane.

Neither of us has a directly farming background, let alone are we agricultural scientists like our father. But, with help from Paul Ward, Mark Ward, and Marion Gaze, who you may know and who have all worked at Wakelyns over many years, we are carrying on with the organic rotation agroforestry farming which our parents developed. This year that included squash, and also some unusual crops including lentils, chia and the YQ “population wheat” developed at Wakelyns. 

Those things are all retailed nationally through Hodmedods, a speciality food company based near Halesworth, and also though local outlets such as the village shops in Fressingfield and Metfield, and via other like-minded producers with whom we are collaborating, such as the Maple Farm Shop in Kelsale.  We have also engaged local young people (recruited through notices in the Fressingfield and Metfield shops) to work as fruit pickers for our cherries, plums, apples, pears and quinces. And we have been making apple juice from the 50+ varieties of apple tree we have at Wakelyns.

The last few months have also been a busy (and expensive!) programme of repairs and renovations to the farmhouse and to the barns and outbuildings. We are also working in collaboration with the Suffolk Wildlife Trust and RSPB to enhance the environmental strength and biodiversity of our land and farming practices. You may have seen that we have put in some bridges to allow people using the public footpaths to walk on our fields on a ‘permissive’ basis to enjoy the agroforestry. 

Although Amanda and I don’t normally live here, we have been doing so during the Covid restrictions since March, which has been very helpful in overseeing the works, and we may well end up being here all or most of the time in the longer term.

The reason for writing is to let you know of some of our other plans and to see if you want to pop round to chat and take a look (social distancing is easy because of all the space). We have in mind to convert part of a barn into a small bakery/kitchen, not just for baking/cooking (to feed people visiting and staying at Wakelyns), but also as a place for teaching and learning.  Suffolk-born and nationally-known chef/baker/author Henrietta Inman is basing herself here to help evolve Wakelyns into a centre for food and cooking based on what we grow at Wakelyns.

Similarly, two local women will be setting up a ‘community supported agriculture’ scheme on part of our land (near the house), which will give local people an opportunity help grow horticulture products for themselves and for us to use on site.

We are also talking to other people involved in agriculture (whether growing, or related crafts such as willow weaving) keen to base themselves here. The barns and other buildings on the site readily lend themselves to use for those purposes.

We have also been building some “glamping pods” (I hate that expression, but we seem stuck with it). They are made of wood and are on legs, so that they can be moved around (on the back of a tractor) within the areas of the fields near to the Wakelyns farmhouse which (within the organic rotation) will at any time be ‘ley’ (the alleys which are grass/clover to improve the soil fertility) so the pods do not compromise the crops at all. We are also thinking about a small number of static mobile home type agricultural accommodation units within the small meadows by our farmyard for people working at Wakelyns.

Using space within the barn as a bakery, having moveable pods within the fields and mobile homes in the meadows are all things we could do as part of the farming and without additional planning permission. But we’re keen not to take advantage of that route and so have in mind to make a proper application for planning permission to the Council. We are presently drafting the documentation and hope to send it off in the next couple of weeks. Obviously, once it goes in, there will be the usual ‘site notices’ on the telegraph poles and we will be in touch again letting you know how to find the documentation on the Council website, in case you want to comment.

In the meantime, if you’d like to know more about any of that, have a look at the draft paperwork, or come and have a chat or a look round (including at the weekend), do let me know or look at our website www.wakelyns.co.uk . I am on david@wakelyns.co.uk or 07740 948536.” [italics added]

“How are emergency vehicles intended to reach the glamping site if cars for 80+ people are parked along verges and farm yards?”

Our farm layout is such that there is no difficulty with any emergency vehicle access. Suffolk Fire Service has not raised any concerns other than to check (which we were happy to confirm) that the concrete area around the Bakery could bear the weight of a fire engine, which is their standard question.

“Static mobile homes provide relatively poor accommodation, I would question the potential for the applicant to replace the static mobile homes with permanent structures in the future, which essentially creates a huge new development without the amnesties necessary. I strongly object to this occurring in the future.”

It is inconceivable that the Council would grant the planning permission which would be required for permanent structures of the kind feared.

We have already made clear in the application materials that we would happily enter into a legal agreement (as contemplated by the Council in its pre-application advice) which prevented the use of the static mobile homes for ordinary residential use.

“I understand the owners wish to retreat back to their London pad once the operation is in full swing.”

We have lived in Suffolk for many years (latterly, 30 minutes from Wakelyns) and have contributed extensively to community and village life in Suffolk. That has included leading a community pub project, chairing a Village Hall Committee and serving on the governing bodies of several Suffolk Schools. Our (now adult) children entirely grew up and went to school in Suffolk.  We are continuing the tradition (established by Ann Wolfe) of the family volunteering in the Metfield Shop. Like many other people who live in Suffolk, we also work in London and so, post pandemic, we will be in London two or so days a week. We do not see that as “retreating”.

For us, taking Wakelyns forward has become, and will remain, a core focus of our lives.


FRANCES EVERSON ADDED:

“The two long-standing farm workers/employees live off-site. I would therefore suggest that there is no demonstrable necessity for these new residential units on agricultural land and that granting permission for them would set a president for the change of farmland into residential land for anyone wanting cheap residential accommodation in the countryside.”

Ann and Martin Wolfe ran the organic agroforestry at Wakelyns as a research activity with no wish to maximise the food and other potential of either the cropping alleys or the tree lines (with their multiplicity of fruit, nut and other food trees). Much of the farming involved was indeed done by those two-part time contract farm workers (who also work on other farms in the area). But, even for Ann and Martin’s limited farming activities, they were considerably supplemented by many other people, almost all of whom would have been driving in and out each day for that purpose.

As explained above, we would like considerably to extend the farming activities on site, including in order to try to harvest and use lots more of the fruit and other produce. That takes a lot more people than was needed before, and throughout the year. Intensive organic agroforestry and horticulture is much more labour intensive than other local farming. But the people involved cannot readily afford to live in the area (and, even if they could, that would of course create daily commuting traffic on Metfield Lane).


JULIE HERBERT ADDED:

“I have seen no information about this application advertised locally. There has been no notifications on any telegraph pole near the proposed site.”

At the Council’s request, we fixed the required site notice on the telegraph pole on Metfield Lane immediately at the start of our land (by Landquip/Lawn Farm on Metfield Lane).

We also placed a notice on a tree at the point our concrete drive meets the public road.

And, most visibly, we fixed one to the Wakelyns vegetable stall at the end of Metfield Lane on the Fressingfield-Metfield Lane (which, as it happens we want to reinstate after years of neglect). It is clearly visible to anyone using that road.

We also hand delivered letters to all the residents of Metfield Lane drawing their attention to all that and to the application (having previously told them it was coming and invited them to discuss it before submission, as above).

That was considerably more than is required by way of site advertising.


CECILIA PRICE ADDED:

“Plus hygiene issues if people working in the bakery are dealing with such things regularly plus sharing limited loos/ washing facilities. Also what about Rodney control?”

The Bakery is fully fitted with all the sinks and other hygiene and safet facilities as required by the Council’s Environmental Health Officer or Building Inspector.

Assuming Cecilia is referring to rodent control, then we maintain a longstanding contract with a local rodent control firm who visit as often as they consider necessary and take any necessary action. We do not have a rodent problem.

“Pipes will have to be laid – does this not conflict ultimately with the tree roots / ability to plough / min till the land?”

The only pipes that will be laid will be within the agroforestry tree lines or grass headlands and will have no impact on the cropping/use of the alleys between the tree lines.


GILLIAN MORTIMER ADDED:

“The accommodation needs of disabled people have not been addressed in any way.”

Access for people with mobility impairments is not part of the planning application process but we are happy to address the point nonetheless.

The Wakelyns farmhouse has a downstairs bedroom which is fully accessible including with a fully accessible en-suite shower and toilet.

The education building is fully accessible with a fully accessible toilet; likewise the free standing toilet/shower building.

The bakery entrance is a double width door reached by a slope which is fully designed for wheelchair access.

One of our pods will have additional facilities to allow for access by people with mobility difficulties; we could readily adapt others.


M J MILES ADDED:

The site has 2 showers for all the proposed numbers living on site …. Two small kitchens make up the cooking facilities-again totally inadequate.”

Although this is not a planning matter, we are happy to respond: the site already has 8 showers/bathrooms. More can readily be added if needed.

The bakery has two large ovens, another coming shortly and 6 hobs. Elsewhere on site are two permanent ovens and 8 hobs. Each pod also has its own hob. Mobile homes are likely to do so too. The content of the additional kitchen area is yet to be specified but it will be equipped to add to our already plentiful supply of facilities on site.

There is no issue with showers or cooking facilities


PETER AND LINDA NORRIS ADDED:

“I believe [the bakery] has no food safety certification.”

Again, not a planning matter but we are happy to help: There is no such thing as “food safety certification”.

However, the bakery has been built entirely in discussion with the Environmental Health Officers. In accordance with their requirements, we notified them 28 days before opening of the intention to do so. There are plenty of photographs on our website and social media which show what is going on – nothing is hidden. It is up to them when they visit to inspect. That is entirely normal for a new food business. We are confident all matters will more than comply with their requirements when they do visit not least because the bakery has been designed and built on the basis of requirements they specified (when an EHO came out to visit us and have a look even before we had started any of the work); and because Henrietta Inman, an experienced chef who is leading the bakery team, has experience over many years of working in and running food establishments.

“more thought could be given to the distribution of [veg boxes and bakery subscriptions] to avoid traffic problems”

The horticulture which will produce the veg boxes is not part of this application: it is part of our farming. No planning permission is required for that farming.

The bread subscriptions will be distributed via collection points across the wider Suffolk area. The limited number of collections from Wakelyns itself could be adapted using our currently unused road-side stall at the end of Metfield Lane.

“This is prime organic farmland, brought to this condition after years of hard work by Martin and Ann Wolfe. The loss of this will have obvious effects on the whole ecology of the site and affect wildlife etc.”

The mobile homes will be on meadow land which is not part of the cropped farmland.

As explained in our application, the use of the ley alleys for pods precisely and specially does not involve any loss or compromise of the organic farmland.

This is not the conversion of the land away from farmland (as some farmers have done). We cannot emphasise enough the way in which our farm diversification activities including the pods are entirely additive to the existing farming.

That includes the fact that the whole concept and design of our pods (including them being on legs and readily movable) is that, in any one year they will be in the alleys which are in the ley cycle of the organic rotation; and, within the year they will move periodically within those alleys so as to have no detrimental affect whatsoever on the land in question.

Moreover, as above, the income from the pods is precisely what is required financially to sustain the organic agroforestry. 

“Local workers would not need to live on site.”

Two points arise: (1) financial, (2) practical.

On (1): it is simply not possible for young people to afford to live in rental properties (let alone buy a property) in this area on the sorts of incomes which can be generated from the farming and other activities we are contemplating.

On (2): the horticulture being undertaken on site often requires early morning and late evening work (rather than during the day) making it impracticable (and very traffic generating) for people who do not live on site. Likewise, our fruit and other produce is in small quantities which are very diverse (50+ varieties of apple for example) such that the amount of (say) picking/foraging to be done on any particular day might take only an hour or two on some days (and is spread throughout the year) which, again, makes it very impracticable (and uneconomic) for people who have to travel in to work.

“The new ‘residents’ (already living on site –in what?) who have already started various businesses up there are not local.

Specialist help from outside the area has already been employed.”

The use of land for caravans (which has a wide definition) for seasonal agricultural workers does not require planning permission.

One of the individuals being referred to went to was born and grew up in Suffolk, attending Thomas Mills School in Framlingham before going to London to train and gain an international reputation for her baking, including through publishing two major books. She is now returning – specifically drawn by the opportunities we can give her at Wakelyns – to bring her expertise and experience back to her home county.

Another (also in her 30s) was born and has lived in Suffolk for all but 18 months of her life (when she lived briefly in Norwich). She has a Suffolk Flag tattoo on her shoulder.

A third’s home is in Manningtree (just over the border in Essex).

But, in any event, we are not aware of any provision which prevents people relocating, particularly to work. We are proud to be trying to offer accommodation and rewarding work and opportunities to local people and others.

“There are two farmers who live locally and who worked with Martin and Ann Wolfe for years but there is no indication that Wakelyns will be able to afford to keep them on.”

The planning application makes clear that additional employment is being created.

That is in addition to the two people in question who remain a core part of our team.

However, as explained above the income from the existing farming at Wakelyns (which they undertake but which was never designed to be financially sustainable on its own) is simply not enough on its own to cover their wages.

That is precisely why we need income from other streams (particularly pod rental, house rental and courses) to sustain their jobs/income and the wider Wakelyns business (including the additional jobs).


JANET COBHILL ADDED:

“I would hate to see Wakelyns as it is come to an end, and the worst of all outcomes, for me, would be its sale and it reverting to another large private house and garden I would appreciate the issue of vehicular access and the roads in general being addressed before permission is granted.”

As explained above, what we are doing, including through this planning application is precisely to enable Wakelyns to continue to preserve its special organic farming activities and provide a centre for many people to research and visit.

If the Highways and Planning Department consider that our existing access is not suitable and/or that we should not use the narrower part of Metfield Lane, then we could create an alternative route and access the highway further down Metfield Lane, where it is wider.


MR AND MRS C COMINS ADDED:

“mobile homes … seem an unsuitable type of accommodation for a secluded rural location”

Farms of more than 5 hectares can site mobile homes (a type of caravan) for agricultural and forestry workers anywhere on their land without planning permission.  They are ubiquitous in secluded rural locations.

However, rather than rely on that special dispensation for farmers (which would have allowed us to place the units anywhere on the farm without any restrictions), we have proposed limiting them to the area furthest from our neighbours through a planning application, and undertaken ecological and other surveys which allow the planning department to control their positioning etc.


POST-SCRIPT:

Finally, as we mention above, Josiah Meldrum was probably Martin’s closest collaborator in the last decade of his life, not least because of his huge professional expertise of food and farming related matters. His consultation response (taken from the Council’s website) may further assist in relation to the questions we have considered above:

“I’m not a local resident but I do live in the next village, within easy cycling distance of Wakelyns, and know the farm and its work very well.

I was also lucky enough to have worked with Prof. Martin Wolfe as a co-director of East Anglia Food Link and then to have benefited from his and Ann Wolfe’s friendship, knowledge and experience when two friends and I established Hodmedod, a Suffolk business that works with farmers to support and encourage agroecological food production (principally through creating a higher value route to market for crops grown by those farmers, but also through wider advocacy work).

Martin and Ann were always clear that fair and sustainable food systems are as much about people as production, and they recognised the critical structural issues that are preventing a more rapid transition to a more diverse, vibrant and ecologically sensitive approach to food production. Key among those are:

-> access to land
-> access to affordable accommodation
-> access to training and the acquisition of skills and knowledge

For many years Wakelyns was research centre, a focal point for the Organic Research Centre’s work on agroforestry and evolutionary plant breeding. It was a busy hub employing a year-round research team and hosting farmers and researchers from all over the UK and world. It’s easy, when close at hand, to overlook the international significance of the farm – it is the best studied and longest established agroforestry experiment in the UK, and one of the most important sites in Europe for this work. Many thousands of people have been inspired by Wakelyns, hundreds of farmers are changing the way they operate because of its work and dozens of institutions and organisations are beginning to adopt the approaches pioneered there.

With the death of Ann and more recently Martin the future of Wakelyns is in doubt and its lasting role as a catalyst for positive change uncertain.

Until recently the farm was supported by research grants that Martin was able to attract because of his impressive academic career and more recently subsidised by Martin and Ann in their retirement. The complexity of the agroforestry experiment (multiple systems demonstrated side by side where a more usual farm might only adopt one or two) and the small size of the land-holding make it unviable in the conventional agricultural sense. Though the yield from the agroforestry is potentially huge, it requires a much larger number of people than would be employed on far larger holdings (typically Suffolk farms directly employ 1 or 2 people per 1000 acres, Wakelyns has the potential to create employment for ten times that number on a fraction of the acres).

The Wolfe family could simply have sold the farm and the responsibilities that came with Ann and Martin’s reputations and legacy. In other hands it would almost certainly not have continued as a global centre for excellence in agroforestry. As it is they took the brave decision to continue work at Wakelyns, to open it up to as many people as possible; farmers, researchers, government, and all those keen to see what change might look like. But in order to do that they need Wakelyns to be able to stand alone economically – not to make a big profit, but to cover its costs and continue to demonstrate the various cropping systems (and allow those systems to be studied and research disseminated).

Having spoken to the family I know they’ve developed a plan that will include farm stays for people interested in agroecological farming as well as one day and residential courses for those who want to learn about small scale food production, low impact farming and biodiversity. My impression and expectation is that those staying at Wakelyns will not be holiday makers in the conventional sense; they’ll have come to learn and to take what they’ve learned back to their own farms, businesses, schools/universities and homes. Having organised visits to Wakelyns over the years, groups from the UK, France, Italy, Spain and Sweden – mainly farmers and academics and generally around 15 or 20 at a time, I know how difficult it is to find nearby accommodation and that often half a morning and the best part of an evening could be spent dropping off and picking up from a scattering of hotels and bed and breakfasts. Staying on the farm would have reduced local vehicle movements and given us more time to explain and explore the farm.

The Wolfes are also allowing for a number of smaller enterprises to have access to the land at the farm and to use the crops; initially this is to include a bakery and a community supported agriculture scheme growing fruit and vegetables for nearby villages (as well as offering opportunities for locals to get involved in and learn about organic production). By their nature land-based businesses generally demand that those working in them live close at hand. I know the Wolfe family initially hoped that people working at Wakelyns would live in Metfield, but it’s immediately clear that it simply isn’t possible – it’s a charming village that, like much of rural Suffolk, has been priced well beyond the means of young people working in the food and farming sector (I’ve just looked, Rightmove currently lists one rental property in Metfield – a 2 bedroom barn conversion at £900pcm).

The visitor accommodation pods have been carefully designed to minimise impact on the land. The mobile homes for farm workers are situated on a part of the farm that has lowest ecological interest (and that isn’t part of the agroforestry system). Drainage and water usage have been considered so as to minimise the impact of increased occupancy (in fact the systems being put in place are an improvement). The farm will generate much of it’s own energy (from biomass and solar collectors). And while I can understand concerns about traffic, I’m not convinced there will be much more than when the farm was a busy research centre with a dozen or more people on site every day, and I certainly think there are plenty of ways in which movement can be co-ordinated and reduced (it worth noting that visitors will be staying on the farm for courses and experiences, not using it as a base to explore Suffolk, unlike when the farm was home to researchers who travelled in and out every day, once they’ve arrived all their needs will be met).

Rather than compromising the farm and its delicate ecology, by offering access to land, access to affordable accommodation and access to training Wakelyns will be able to continue to showcase what will be an increasingly important approach to agriculture and food production over the next few decades. It’ll also become a practical demonstration of the kind of just and equitable enterprise model that other landowners will, I’m certain, want to learn from and adopt.”


[1] They have put forward Wakelyns as the only UK farm to be studied within a research project which is studying farms across 7 countries in Europe.

[2] All of whom are ordinarily resident a long way from Metfield Lane Farm