The owners of a popular alpaca farm in Northumberland say they may have to sell their business after councillors refused to grant permission for them to diversify their income.

Paul Shrimpton and his wife Kathryn bought their first alpacas in 2006 and now have a sizeable herd of the animals at their Alpaca Encounters business based in Lowgate near Hexham.

They will also have to tear down the £200,000 log cabin they have been temporarily living in after councillors refused to grant permission for them to turn it into a holiday let.

The couple had planning permission granted in 2020 for a permanent home.

The Northern Farmer: Paul and Kathryn Shrimpton of Alpaca Encounters

However, with building costs spiralling over the last two years, Mr Shrimpton told members of Tynedale Local Area Council that they required the income from a “diversification into holiday accommodation” to support a self-build loan.

At the committee’s meeting on Tuesday (November 14), he implored members to go against council planners ruling and approve the plans to change the use of the cabin from a temporary rural workers’ dwelling into holiday accommodation.

Mr Shrimpton said: “Whilst we are in the green belt, we are advised there is flexibility in the planning system whereby projects demonstrating very special circumstances may be approved. Our alpaca businesses already contribute significantly to the local economy.

“The benefits of a new, self-catering, eight-person luxury holiday home, in walking distance of Hexham, will increase this contribution exponentially. If we are unsuccessful, there is potential for Hillfield to be sold with planning for the house, but with no guarantee of all the other benefits.

“A vote to permit will facilitate the diversification needed to prolong our livelihood with very little impact on the open countryside. It will be a vote for sustainability, for the local economy, for local charities, for local tourism and for the businesses that rely on it. It is very special circumstances indeed.”

The committee heard that a previous, identical application had already been refused by council officers under delegated decisions. The applicant had considered appealing but decided to go forward with a second application to be heard by councillors instead.

But Cllr Ian Hutchinson, who represents the Haltwhistle ward, proposed a refusal in line with the officers’ recommendations.

He said: “The word consistency comes to mind. This is a planning application which is identical to one which has been refused.

“If we’re going to be consistent, I have got to propose refusal. We would look like total idiots if we approved it after refusing the last one.”

Cllr Derek Kennedy, who represents the Hexham West ward, said he was conflicted but would be voting to support the plans.

He said; “For me, I feel this is a delicate balance. I’m torn between the principles of rules and against the price of a living, breathing economy and people’s lives.

“I see a building that is already in place and that is tucked away. It’s not a highly prominent site in a prominent part of the greenbelt, that is not the case. I would have actually voted to support it.”

Despite Cllr Kennedy’s defence, the plans were refused by seven votes to one.